Why was there such a large increase in suicides in Ohio from 1999 to 2016?
Looking at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) data on suicides in Ohio, it is easy to see that there has been a disturbing trend over the past decade: Suicide rates have risen 36 percent from 1999 to 2016. What are the reasons behind this trend? Do substance use disorders play a role, or are other factors driving this increase?
What Is Happening in Ohio?
What is happening with suicide rates in Ohio? Across the United States, suicide rates have been increasing. Ohio has had a 36 percent increase from 1999 to 2016. According to WKYC, “The highest rates in Northeast Ohio are in Ashtabula, Summit, Huron, Stark and Columbiana counties.”
Why are suicides increasing in Ohio? That question is hard to answer.
Risk Factors for Suicide
Unlike some physical disorders, mental health challenges do not necessarily have a single cause that impacts everyone. This is certainly true of suicide risk. However, there are a number of factors that can put individuals more at risk of suicide.
- People who have experienced trauma in their lives can experience more depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. For example, veterans are at increased risk of suicide. Eighteen percent of all suicides in the U.S. involved veterans in 2014.
- Acute personal crises such as financial problems or the death of a loved one can lead people to suicide.
- A lack of social connections can lead to an increased risk of suicide. Unfortunately, people in the U.S. are becoming more socially isolated, according to the Kaiser Foundation. The majority of suicides occur among unmarried men ages 45 to 54.
- There is less training to support mental health, and there are not a lot of accessible mental health services nationwide.
- More than half of those who die from suicide do not have an official mental health diagnosis.
The Opioid Crisis in Ohio
At the same time as the suicide rate has been rising, the use of drugs such as opioids has been rising as well. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Ohio is among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths. In 2016, there were 3,613 opioid-related overdose deaths in Ohio — a rate of 32.9 deaths per 100,000 persons and more than double the national rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000.
Why is there an opioid crisis in Ohio? The opioid crisis across the nation began largely with an uptick in opioids prescriptions for acute and chronic pain. Some people became dependent on these opioids, and some started using other, non-legal opioids such as heroin and fentanyl. Since then, many people have experienced overdoses due to the misuse of (or mixing) these drugs.
Rising Suicide Rates and Substance Use
Why are substance use disorders and suicide risk connected? Substance use changes the brain. Changes in the brain involving neurotransmitters such as serotonin are associated with an increased risk of suicide. These changes can occur in people with depression, and they can also occur in the brains of people who misuse drugs and alcohol.
People experiencing mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety may often use substances to cope. While many substances might give people a temporary feeling of wellbeing and energy, they are not a long-term fix for mental health challenges. Unfortunately, the brain becomes dependent on substances. When the impact of the drug is gone, the brain may still be used to the impacts of those drugs. People can begin to depend on drugs for pleasurable feelings because their brains have changed. This psychological dependence on substances can lead to an addiction that is difficult to overcome without professional treatment.
There is another link between substance use and rising suicide rates as well. Seeing friends and family members go through substance use disorder, overdoses or diseases can be traumatic. Experiencing these traumas yourself can also lead to anxiety and depression about the future. This can lead to mental health challenges and raise suicide risks.
Support groups and group therapy can help in your recovery from a substance use disorder.
How to Reduce the Suicide Rate
Reducing the suicide rate is not only about addressing substance use disorder, but it is also about creating an integrated plan to support people’s overall mental health. This includes:
- Identifying people who are at risk
- Teaching coping skills
- Providing safe environments
- Creating community connections
- Providing resources to support mental and physical health
- Developing temporary options for help for those who are struggling financially or emotionally
- Finding treatment options for substance use disorder
Know the Warning Signs
According to the CDC, there are a number of suicide warning signs. While depression and anxiety might seem to be visible mental health challenges, they are often invisible. Furthermore, the combination of mental health challenges, substance misuse and other life difficulties can lead to serious feelings of anxiety and depression even in people who do not have a diagnosed mental health disorder.
What should you be looking for in yourself, your friends and your family? The warning signs for suicide include:
- Feeling anxious
- Feeling extensive emotional pain
- Feeling like a burden or hopeless
- Mood swings and anger
- Sleeping a lot or too little
- Talking about or posting about wanting to die
- Looking for lethal means
- Increasing substance use or misuse
Help Is Available for Substance Use Disorder
If you are struggling with a substance use disorder and you would like to find help that may also improve your mental health, talking with a treatment center may be the answer. At a treatment program, you will find:
- Medical assistance to help you stop using substances. Medical professionals will help make withdrawal easier.
- Mental health support, such as help for co-occurring disorders such as depression and anxiety. These disorders can make it harder for you to stop using substances, and they can also lead to suicide attempts. Many people who misuse substances have co-occurring disorders.
- Counseling and group therapy, including family therapy. This can help you discuss your past and plan for your future, help you create a new set of tools and help you remain free of substance misuse in the long term.
- Alternative therapies such as recreation and art therapy. Different forms of therapy can help you find focus and feel positive and healthy.
While it takes courage to make that first step of talking to professionals in a treatment program, it can help you set up the rest of your life for happiness and wellness.
At The Recovery Village Columbus, we support the active treatment of substance use disorder. This means that we offer addiction treatment programs as well as treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions. Are you curious about how we can help you or your family member? Contact The Recovery Village Columbus today.