a short series on suicide. step 1: curiosity.Many men and women with bipolar disorder are familiar with suicidal thoughts—including me.

I can’t even count how many times I’ve thought about suicide, and the reasons have varied.

It is often a familiar feeling and desire for those that experience mental illness.

According to About.com Bipolar Disorder, it is estimated that 20% of those with bipolar will commit suicide. That’s one out of every five. And as many as 50%—half—will attempt suicide at least once in their lives.

The threat is very real.

Because of this reality, it’s important to know the facts and warning signs about bipolar disorder and suicide.

Whether you are someone with the illness, or a caregiver or friend, this educational article is for you.

Causes of Suicidal Thoughts

Suicidal thoughts have numerous causes. Feeling like one can’t cope, or that a situation is much too stressful, can incite thoughts of desperation and suicide. Many bipolar people have issues with coping with stress.

If there’s no hope for the future, it is very possible to resort to suicide as a solution.

A sort-of tunnel vision can ensue, where suicide seems like the only way out.

There is also evidence of genetic links to suicide. People who commit suicide or have suicidal thoughts often have a family history of the same behavior.  I have a history in my family, and this makes sense.

More research is needed on this possible genetic component, but there is research that indicates that there can be a pattern of suicidal behavior in families.

Warning Signs of Suicide

It’s important for both people with bipolar disorder and their loved ones to know the warning signs of suicide.

Since it is easy to get the “tunnel vision” described above, we can become blind to how dangerous the suicidal situation is getting.

Warning signs include:

  • Talking about suicide—for example, saying things like, “I wish I was dead”, “I’m going to kill myself”, “I wish I could sleep forever”, or “I wish I had never been born”.
  • Acquiring the means to commit suicide, such as stockpiling medication or buying a gun
  • Withdrawing from social contact; wanting to be left alone
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and being withdrawn and depressed the next
  • Preoccupation with death, dying, or violence
  • Feeling hopeless or trapped in a situation
  • New or increased use of alcohol and/or drugs
  • Changing normal routine, including sleeping or eating patterns
  • Engaging in self-destructive activities, such as driving recklessly
  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no logical reason to be doing so
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
  • Personality changes, including anxiousness and agitation, particularly when engaging in one of the warning signs above.

Remember, these warning signs are not someone’s dramatic cries for attention. They are real and abnormal reactions to stress and should be taken very seriously.

What You Can Do

If you feel like hurting yourself, or are suicidal, get help right now:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number right away.
  • Call a Suicide Hotline Number—and they are extremely helpful, just ask me—in the United States, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. Use that same number, then press 1, to reach the Veteran’s Crisis Line.

If you are feeling suicidal, but are not in immediate danger of hurting yourself:

  • Reach out to a close, trusted friend or loved one. It may be hard to talk about your feelings, but it’s worth it.
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader, or someone else in your faith community.
  • Call a suicide hotline
  • Make an appointment with your doctor or other health care provider.

It’s always good to talk to a professional just in case. Don’t risk your life. And remember, suicide doesn’t get better on its own. Get help.

Call 911 right away if you:

  • Think you cannot stop yourself from harming yourself
  • Hear voices
  • Want to commit suicide
  • Know someone who has expressed that they want to commit suicide.

Those that are suicidal and going through severe depression often don’t have the strength, energy, or will to get help, and I’ve been there. If you’re a loved one of someone who is suicidal, being the strong one can pay off and save your friend’s life.

How to Prevent Suicidal Thoughts

You can’t manage suicidal thoughts all on your own. Let’s get that out of the way. You need professional help to combat this. In addition, you should:

  • Go to your appointments. Don’t skip a therapy or psychiatric appointment just because you don’t feel like it.
  • Take medications as directed. I need this reminder. Even though you’re feeling well, you need to take your meds as prescribed every single day. Don’t stop medications abruptly without talking to your doctor.
  • Learn about bipolar disorder. This can empower you and motivate you, helping you stick to your treatment plan and have a better idea of what your thoughts and feelings could mean. Encouraging caregivers to learn as much as they can is extremely helpful as well.
  • Pay attention to warning signs. Know them, talk to your doctor about them, and make a plan in case suicidal thoughts return. The best thing is to be prepared.
  • Seek help from a support or educational group. A number of organizations in the United States are available to help. They can also help you realize there are others that feel like you and that there are other options than suicide.

Many of us are linked in some way to a survivor of suicide. It is a very real problem in our society, in fact, in the United States in 2009, over 36,000 people chose to end their lives.

We need to keep talking about suicide, educating about suicide, and learning not to be afraid to get help or help someone that is struggling.

I remember helping out at a mental health event at my university in 2008. The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention was there, and they came with fold-out poster boards containing pictures of people that had taken their lives.

Each and every one of them was beautiful, and I wholeheartedly believe that they could have turned their lives around again. People loved them, cared for them, they just couldn’t see it at the time.

Take this to heart.

Many of those that struggle with suicidal thoughts don’t get the help they need. Be courageous, and let’s end the rampant suicide in our society. We have too many people that could be living their lives, spending time with their family, and making the world a better place.


Have you ever tried to take your life, or know someone that has? Did you know the warning signs or were you aware of how serious the situation was? What do you do when you’re feeling suicidal? Do you have a plan in place just in case you feel that way?


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Photo Credit:  Creative Commons License Casey Muir-Taylor