Bipolar & Suicidal Thoughts: Are Those With Bipolar Disorder At Risk Of Suicide?
Bipolar disorder affects around one million people in the UK alone. It is a serious mental illness which can greatly impact the lifestyle of the sufferer, as well as those around them. However, it should be noted that professional help has been proven to be very effective in helping those with bipolar take control of their condition.
Depending on the type of bipolar disorder diagnosed, the condition can cause manic and depressive episodes which can last two weeks or more, as well as periods of psychosis. One of the unfortunate symptoms of these episodes is suicidal thoughts, which is more likely to lead to a suicide attempt in those with bipolar, as studies show.
In light of world Bipolar Day on March 30th, we look at bipolar disorder and the risk of suicide, including the signs to look out for and when to seek help.
Bipolar: Depressive Episodes
19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and over show symptoms of anxiety or depression – a harrowing statistic. Depression is a mental illness that can be genetic, caused by faulty mood regulation in the brain, or triggered by medication or stressful life events, and it can be a singular occurrence or an ongoing condition.
Depressive episodes can lead to suicidal thoughts, leaving lasting trauma with the sufferer as well as those around them. For those with bipolar, depressive episodes are an expected symptom of their condition, which may mean an increased risk of suicide without proper treatment. One paper found that the rate of suicide among bipolar patients is approximately 10–30 times higher than in the general population.
Christos Kouimtsidis, Consultant Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre, says, “Professional help is vital for those with bipolar disorder in order to aid them on their journey towards having more control over their condition and living a more normal life. Too often, bipolar sufferers self-medicate with drugs and alcohol; this only exacerbates symptoms and can lead to life-threatening circumstances. As well as therapies and medications, a holistic approach must be taken in order to tackle the condition from all angles. This includes making positive lifestyle changes that will increase mental and physical wellbeing.”
For those with bipolar disorder, depressive episodes can lead to:
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviours
- Insomnia or a change in sleeping habits
- Change in appetite
- Low self-esteem
- Brain fog (inability to focus) and indecision
- Loss of interest in hobbies
Comorbid use of alcohol and drugs as self-medication
Alcohol and drug use is particularly common in those with bipolar disorder. One study states that ‘the lifetime prevalence of SUDs [substance use disorders] is at least 40% in bipolar I patients. Alcohol and cannabis are the substances most often abused, followed by cocaine and then opioids.’
Often, those with bipolar seek to mask the symptoms of their disorder with these substances as a form of self-medication. This is very heavily discouraged, as the use of drugs and alcohol is a common catalyst of manic or depressive episodes. Cocaine and amphetamines are most likely to cause manic episodes, while alcohol is a leading precipitator of depressive episodes. Alcohol use can also reduce the efficacy of medications, make depressive symptoms worse, and increase the chance of developing an addiction.
Alcohol and drugs have many negative effects in those with bipolar, so much so that patients are advised against their use at all after diagnosis. It is imperative for those with bipolar (or a friend or family member) to recognise the patterns of behaviour when it comes to bipolar and alcohol and drug abuse, and seek help as soon as possible so that the road to recovery can begin.
Bipolar And Other Links To Suicide
Although depressive episodes are a significant catalyst for suicidal thoughts in those with bipolar disorder, sufferers may be at risk of due to other aspects of this mental illness, such as:
- Relieving burden: Those with bipolar disorder may feel as if they are a burden to others, which could lead to a desire to end their life to relieve such burden.
- Side effects of medication: Paradoxically, a rare side effect of antidepressants is suicidal thoughts. If a person with bipolar disorder is prescribed antidepressants, the treatment is often given alongside a mood stabiliser to help prevent this from occurring.
- Self euthanasia: As mentioned, bipolar disorder is a very difficult disorder to endure without the correct treatment. Those with bipolar who have been undiagnosed, misdiagnosed or had delayed treatment may feel more inclined to end their own suffering if it feels as if it is too much for them to live with.
- Inadequate support: As with any mental illness, those with bipolar disorder benefit from strong, positive support, whether medically or from friends and family. Inadequate support or negative treatment of a person with bipolar can have a serious impact on their mental wellbeing.
Suicidal Thoughts: Signs To Look Out For
Bipolar sufferers will often have patterns of behaviour that link to their manic and depressive episodes, as well as their periods of neutral mental state. If you are supporting someone who has bipolar, it’s important for you to recognise these signs, and look out for any changes that are out of character.
Possible signs of suicidal thoughts are:
- Talking about suicide, violence or death
- Researching methods of suicide online
- Use or increased use of drugs or alcohol
- Risky behaviour
- Self isolation
- Expressing a feeling of being a burden to others
- Giving away possessions
- Saying goodbye to loved ones
- Psychomotor agitation, such as wringing hands, pulling out hairs or pacing
When To Seek Help
If someone you know has bipolar disorder and they are showing any of the signs above that appear to be out of character for them, offer your support in the way that you feel is most appropriate (we have written a blog post about helping those with suicidal thoughts here).
Outside support is essential in helping those with bipolar live a normal life. To find out more about effective treatment options for bipolar, click here. We are the only clinic in the world to offer Precision Medicine for treatment of this condition.
The London Psychiatry Centre is a private clinic, which means that we can provide immediate high quality care for patients over telephone or video consultation. Face-to-face appointments are also available. If you, or someone you know, needs support please don’t hesitate to call us and arrange for a consultation.