Each year in the United States, roughly thirty thousand people commit suicide, making it the ninth leading cause of death.
There are a host of risk factors that increase the likelihood that someone with bipolar disorder will commit suicide. Demographically speaking, older white men (eighty-five and older) carry the highest suicide rates. In general, men in every age and racial group are at a higher risk for committing suicide, although women will make a greater number of attempts.
Diagnostically, people with mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, carry a greatly elevated risk of suicide. In bipolar disorder the periods of greatest risk are during depressed (75 percent) and mixed (25 percent) episodes. The active use of alcohol increases the risk five-fold. So too, can use of illicit drugs enhance the likelihood of an impulsive and fatal attempt. The symptom of “hopelessness” is particularly ominous, as the person who doesn’t see any future might easily decide there’s no reason to continue living. Other symptoms such as agitation, irritability, impulsivity and the presence of anxiety and panic attacks are associated with increased risk.
Access to lethal means must also factor into the equation. Over half of all suicides in the United States involve firearms. The largest numbers of suicide attempts, however, are by overdose. Therefore, it is critical to remove firearms from the home, and to lock away potentially lethal dosages of medications. While suicides involving automobiles are reported as being relatively few, access to car keys should still be limited. For family members and practitioners this also means paying attention to how medications are managed, amounts of pills dispensed at any one time, access to potentially lethal doses of medication, and so on.
Social problems and acute stresses also factor heavily into the assessment of suicide risk. Marital/relationship conflicts, breakups, divorces, financial setbacks, school problems, bullying, legal problems, arrests, admission to a convalescent facility, and recent diagnosis of medical and/or psychiatric problems all significantly increase the risk of suicide.