According to some statistics, people with Bipolar disease are 60% more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. And they are much more likely to have multiple attempts. And of those who do try, approximately 30% of them will eventually be successful.
Bipolar Disorder has the highest mortality rate of all the other mental illnesses combined.
So why is that?
In my opinion, there are a number of reasons as to why this is. Nothing scientific or heavily researched, just my own views formed from a lifetime of observation and experience. I think one of these reasons is the severity of the illness. Bipolar disorder can be a life consuming condition. The depressive episodes can render one completely incapacitated; unable to work, keep up with daily responsibilities, or even care for themselves. Manic episodes can create extreme financial hardship, loss of jobs, and serious legal trouble. And that is oversimplified and understated. This illness can completely rule your life. Dealing with something this difficult all the time and year after year can become completely overwhelming. You just get tired of it all, and quit trying.
Of course there are other illnesses that are even more disabling. Schizophrenia is an obvious example. Often times the brain is so impaired that even the simplest tasks are impossible. Even other illnesses that aren’t as ‘serious’ can be horrible. (Serious is relative of course. If the illness is yours, there is none more serious. This is not a competition). One difference with Bipolar is awareness. Even before I accepted my diagnoses I knew there was ‘something wrong’ with me. And I also knew when my mood was getting out of control; and I was powerless to stop it. The knowledge of what’s coming…again… can be too much to take.
I also believe that as a whole, people who are bipolar tend to be more intelligent and creative. You might think that would be a deterrent; you are smart enough to know better. You do know better however, and can understand just how bad this disease is, and just how difficult it is to control. Sometimes it seems like suicide is the only real cure.
A common perception seems to be that most suicides occur at the absolute depths of depression. When someone is at the bottom of the pit, when there’s no hope and a state total despair drives them to end it all. Personally, I believe this is a misconception.
There is a bipolar community of sorts, and through it I’ve met hundreds of other people who also suffer from being bipolar. I’ve talked to people in clinic waiting rooms, been a part of many different support groups, and been hospitalized many, many times and gotten to know personal details of others. One thing that I’ve noticed is that the majority of the people I’ve gotten to know that have tried suicide attempted it either right before or right after bottoming out in a depression. In the first place, it takes a certain amount of energy to have the strength to harm yourself. Even something as ‘simple’ as an overdose takes an emotional commitment to give the drive to follow through. After cycling through depressions over and over, you know what’s coming as you head into the worst of it, and will do anything to keep from going there again. Or as you are coming out, the energy increases but the pain is still there.
Mania brings a different situation. Often there are high risk behaviors that result in fatal accidents. It might not be something intentional, but it just happens. It’s really a miracle that in all the manic rages I’ve had I haven’t killed myself or someone else, especially in a car. To say my driving gets aggressive when I’m manic is like saying there’s a little water in the ocean. In the city where I live there was recently a situation where the police shot and killed a man who was having a manic episode. He was totally out of control, and demonstrating threatening behaviors, and the police felt they had to respond with force. I don’t believe it was anything the victim intended, but the end result is suicide by police.
Sometimes, the brain decides on its own that you need to die. My most recent experience was not planned, not intentional, or even anything I was conscious of doing. I was depressed. I started taking tranquilizers just to escape the misery for a little while. But I lost track of what I had taken, and ended up with a massive overdose that was damned near successful. My active thinking had no thoughts of killing myself, but I believe that my subconscious did.
Of course every mental illness has the potential of reaching the point of no return, when suicide seems to be the only option. Even illnesses that aren’t mental can have the same effect. Cancer victims can no longer stand the physical pain, and knowing that it’s only a matter of time anyway, decide to end it on their own terms.
Suicide really isn’t an answer. A successful attempt may end your own suffering, but it creates so much more for those left behind. And as bad as it is, it will always get better. There are always ways to treat the illness and recovery is possible. But I believe that there are so many factors of being bipolar and so many features of the disease that it’s no wonder so many of us try to die.
I think it’s a wonder more of us don’t.