National Suicide Prevention Week: A look at Dual Diagnosis

February 20, 2018

It’s a topic not many people are keen to discuss. The stigma surrounding suicide hasn’t lessened in recent years, even as the conversation on mental health grows. Those considering suicide feel isolated, afraid, numb or hopeless, while those who die of suicide leave loved ones confused and wondering what they could have done to change things.

Most often, we assume that those who die by suicide were mentally ill, and in a majority of cases, psychologists find that suicide victims were struggling with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or a number of other psychological ailments. However, researchers today are finding more and more that to address suicide and mental illness, we must also address addiction.

Dual Diagnosis

In the US, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death. Depression and other mental illnesses are the top predictor of suicidal tendencies, but addiction is a very close runner up. In fact, alcoholism is the single biggest indicator for risk of suicide.

This means that in order to prevent more suicides, patients must be treated not just for one illness, but for two. Those who self-medicate with opiates or other drugs to treat symptoms of depression or anxiety are, in reality, worsening the problem and increasing their risk of suicide. Psychologists and addiction specialists must therefore be vigilant in looking for signs of mental illness and chemical dependency going hand-in-hand. Dual diagnosis means dual treatment, which is far more effective in preventing attempts at suicide.

Behavioral Health

In Indiana especially, the opioid crisis has opened many eyes to the dangers of addiction, and the importance of addressing mental health. At the Indiana University Academic Health Center, we’ve launched a Behavioral Health Collaborative to bring more progressive methods to our prevention, treatment and recovery from mental illness and addiction, including a focus on dual diagnosis.

Recently, Methodist Health Foundation held an event to introduce members of the Behavioral Health Collaborative to members of the community. The event began with some disturbing statistics. Nearly one in 10 Hoosiers has used an addictive substance in the last month. In a third of motor vehicle crashes, someone in the car has tested positive for drugs. In domestic situations involving children, fully two-thirds involve illegal substances. The epidemic is growing, and with it, a growing number of suicides is likely.

Mike Haley, senior vice president of behavioral health, says that the focus of the Behavioral Health Collaborative will be on access to care for behavioral health patients, increasing awareness of dual diagnosis, and addiction. As he says, “we (prescribing physicians) helped create the problem. We didn’t do it on purpose, but we helped.” Now, he believes, it’s up to caregivers to take the lead in preventing and treating both mental illness and addiction to change lives… and to save them.

September 10-16 is National Suicide Prevention Week. If you have contemplated suicide, or if you believe someone you love is exhibiting suicidal tendencies or actions, do not remain silent. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 (1.800.273.TALK). If you’re worried that you might be feeling symptoms of depression or anxiety, or if you’re struggling with an addiction, help is available.

Share This Story

Related Services

Behavioral Health

Our Behavioral Health experts treat addictions, anxiety, mood disorders, trauma, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, anxiety and other mental health conditions.


A common mental health condition that may make you feel sad, tired, unmotivated, irritable and uninterested in activities you once enjoyed.


Chronic, excessive worry and stress that can manifest itself in physical ways such as headaches and muscle tension and can lead to more intense symptoms.