When a person you love is diagnosed with a mental illness, a number of things can be running through your mind. Addiction is likely not one of them. Unfortunately, addiction is often the result of abusing a substance as a coping mechanism.
The next step from mental illness to addiction is then a heightened risk of suicide. Addiction, when combined with a mental illness, leads to a much higher risk of suicidal thoughts and actions, meaning not only is it critical that you prevent addiction, but you must also be aware of the associated risks. Here are a few ways you can work to prevent both addiction and suicide in mentally ill individuals.
A person who feels they should be ashamed of their illness is more likely to turn to an unhealthy crutch such as an addictive substance. Being open and aware of their condition and how to work around it is important in avoiding dependence on something else for comfort.
Let the person know you understand and that you are willing to listen when they need to talk. This works against the risk of both suicide and addiction by preventing feelings of being ostracized and shame. Social acceptance can play a huge role in addiction and suicide.
Listen to the Person
A person with a mental illness who feels secure confiding in you will tell you what they need. For example, someone with severe social anxiety might tell you they can’t handle going to coffee with you on the day you had planned. You need to listen and be supportive.
Do not force them into situations that make things worse. They need to feel understood and accepted for who they are. With a great support system of good listeners, a person struggling with mental illness may never even feel the urge to abuse a substance or experience suicidal thoughts.
Of course, with certain ailments, even the best support network cannot prevent these detrimental habits and thoughts. For example, bipolar disorder may cause suicidal thoughts on down days regardless of how helpful their friends and family are. This may be where a professional counselor comes in.
Find a Professional
No matter how much you love and support your loved one, you cannot replace the expertise of a professional. Professionals are able to recommend medications and beneficial practices to help control the effects of the illness. They can offer positive outlets in order to help your loved one avoid feeling they need to turn to alcohol or drug abuse to cope. They are a necessary resource when your loved one needs care you cannot provide.
Even if a counselor is out of your reach, financially, there are hotlines available for both suicide and addiction. Though these hotlines are not a permanent solution, they can be an invaluable resource for moments of crisis.
A mental illness diagnosis is never the end of the road. Millions of people live with these conditions and are perfectly capable of having full, well-rounded lives. You, as a loved one, only need to be supportive and loving. No one expects you to be a counselor; however, you may be needed to help locate one qualified to help your loved one with their unique circumstances.
Having a professional on board is crucial to maintaining a healthy way of coping with mental illness. Listen, be open, and help them in the direction of a knowledgeable counselor. Preventing addiction and suicide in mentally ill people does not need to be an uphill battle provided you have a good support network and healthy outlets.
Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.org with a fellow pre-med student. The availability of accurate health facts, advice, and general answers is something Steve wants for all people, not just those in the health and medical field. He continues to spread trustworthy information and resources through the website, but also enjoys tennis and adding to his record collection in his spare time.
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The Crisis Intervention Team Inc. brings you education, conversations and perspectives on behavioral health, law enforcement, and crisis intervention teams.