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Addiction and Suicide: Could There Be A Link?

KNOXVILLE - More than 50,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United states in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Those numbers don't say whether those overdoses were accidental or intentional.

The number of suicides per year is more than 43,000, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Could there be a link?

Lori Ramsey, the director of crisis services at the Helen Ross McNabb Center in Knoxville, said there are higher rates of depression among people who struggle with addiction, and depression is the number one psychiatric diagnosis for suicide.

Ramsey said people with addiction often feel the same emotions as people who are considering suicide.

“What we see is people who are struggling to survive every day,” Ramsey said. “They may get to the point where they start thinking the only out may be suicide. And so that’s why it’s so important to have these discussions to hopefully let people know that there are places to get help.”

“Jan. 9, 2014, I made the decision that I was going to end my life,” Gilliam said.

Now more than three years later, Gilliam said she is glad that plan failed. She said she had struggled with a pain pill addiction for 27 years. When she was 15, she was prescribed Percocet after surgery. She said she was later sexually assaulted and bullied in school, and she continued to take the pills to cope. Over the years, she said her addiction sometimes landed her in jail and severed her relationship with her daughter.

“The self-hatred, the shame, the guilt, the just wanting it to be over, all those things are running through your mind,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam sought help from a crisis recovery center. She’s been clean for more than three years, she mentors people with her same struggles and she is soon going to be a grandmother.

“That’s what addiction does,” Gilliam said. “It makes you believe that there’s no other options. But there are other options. And I’m a living, breathing example of that … I want that so desperately for others to know that there is a way out.”

If you or a loved one is experiencing harmful thoughts, you can call the 24-hour Mobile Crisis Hotline at 865-549-2409.

"They know exactly what a caller is going through because they've gone through it themselves," said Ben Harrington, CEO of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee.

The center can be reached at 1-865-584-9125 between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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