On September 10, a sober observance takes center stage: World Suicide Prevention Day. (Coincidentally, it falls one day before another somber anniversary.) Sponsored by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), the awareness campaign is a joint effort with the World Health Organization and the World Federation for Mental Health.1
As the coordinators of this worldwide initiative, the IASP raises awareness, reduces stigma, and offers hope and help. Further, the IASP collaborates with other mental health organizations, and promotes “evidence-based action in order to reduce the incidence of suicide and suicidal behavior.”
By the Numbers
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2020, the most recent year that CDC statistics are available, nearly 46,000 people died from suicide. And there were an estimated 1.2 million suicide attempts.2
Firearms accounted for over half of those deaths. But many of these incidents involved alcohol. Two studies from 2014 show a positive correlation between heavy alcohol use and suicide.34
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Excess Alcohol Can Make Things Worse
Not all alcohol incidents result in suicide. But people who are already dependent on substances often have a number of other risk factors for self-harm. In addition to being depressed, they are also likely to have social and financial problems.5 Substance use and abuse can be common among persons prone to be impulsive. And suicide attempts can occur among persons who engage in types of high risk behaviors.
According to the CDC, most deaths from alcohol are from cancers, liver disease, and heart ailments, aggravated by years of heavy drinking.6 But they note the more immediate effects of drinking too much in a short period of time. One possible outcome (aside from an overdose) is suicide.
Adding alcohol to anxiety and depression can increase the likelihood that a suicide attempt will be successful. According to a 2012 study cited by the Partnership to End Addiction, almost 25% of people who commit suicide “are legally intoxicated when they die.”7
Read more: Alcohol and Mental Health
A Major Recent Study
In 2019, Mark Kaplan, a professor at Portland State University, was awarded a $1 million grant from the NIAAA to study 84,000 suicides from 2003 to 2011. Many of these cases included toxicology reports, which enabled Kaplan to study the role alcohol played in those figures.8
Kaplan’s three-year study is nearing its end. But he wrote, “Economic stress such as unemployment and home foreclosures can put people at a higher risk for suicide. Alcohol can be the missing link between contemplating suicide and actually carrying it out.” (Note that Kaplan made these observations, prior to the onset of the pandemic.)
What Can You Do?
First, take people seriously when they discuss taking their own lives. Someone might joke, “If I don’t get this new job, I’ll kill myself.” This may sound (and might be) harmless, but for certain individuals, a comment like that could be a warning sign. It’s also important to recognize the immediate, intense threat of suicide when it happens.
With increasing focus on employee mental health, some insurance companies are starting to pay attention. Magellan Healthcare offers what they call “an ecosystem of services for suicide prevention.” They realize that investing in employees pays off, both in the short and long term, maintaining a vital workforce.9
During the pandemic, some services have disappeared—services that help maintain mental health. Many people rely on these to help maintain their mental equilibrium. One article notes that veterans are particularly susceptible to depression and increased suicide risk.10 Thoughts of taking one’s life are only amplified by drinking.
At Ria Health, we want everyone to have access to mental health services, to avoid the possibility of suicide in the first place. For our members, we consider each person’s unique situation. We help them drink less (or not at all), and lead healthier, happier lives.
And finally, if you know someone thinking about suicide—perhaps a bit too much talk about “ending it all”—share this toll-free number: 988. Formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the new, shorter number was created in July 2022 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). People are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.