Associations among substance use, mental health disorders, and self-harm in a prison population: Examining group risk for suicide attempt

Madison L. Gates, Asher Turney, Elizabeth Ferguson, Veronica Walker, Michelle Staples-Horne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Substance use disorders (SUD) and mental health disorders are significant public health issues that co-occur and are associated with high risk for suicide attempts. SUD and mental health disorders are more prevalent among offenders (i.e., prisoners or inmates) than the non-imprisoned population, raising concerns about the risk of self-harm. This cross-sectional study examined the population of a state prison system (10,988 out of 13,079) to identify associations among SUD (alcohol, cannabis, intravenous drugs, narcotics, and tobacco smoking), mental health disorders (anxiety, bipolar, depression, and psychotic disorders), and suicide attempts. The primary aim was to determine which groups (SUD, mental health disorders, and co-occurrences) were strongly association with suicide attempts. Groups with a documented SUD or mental health disorders compared to peers without these issues had 2.0 and 9.2 greater odds, respectively, for attempting suicide, which was significant at p < 0.0001 for both conditions. There were also significant differences within SUD and mental health disorders groups in regard to suicide attempts. Groups with the greatest odds for suicide attempts were offenders with comorbid bipolar comorbid and anxiety, alcohol combined with depression, and cannabis co-occurring with depression. Documentation of suicide attempts during imprisonment indicates awareness, but also suggest a need to continue enhancing screening and evaluating environmental settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number317
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 20 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Mental health
  • Prisoners
  • Public health
  • Self-injurious behavior
  • Substance-related disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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