There is no doubt that people with bipolar disorder are at high risk for committing suicide. If a family member or friend voices suicidal thoughts, plan, or intent, this is an emergency that requires attention. Likewise, if someone is engaged in behaviors that indicate a plan to end his life, such as giving away valued possessions, saying goodbye to people, writing suicide notes, or assembling the means to kill himself, help is needed ASAP. What you don’t want to do is minimize the seriousness of what the person is saying or doing. Most people who kill themselves will have told at least one other person what they intended to do in the weeks preceding.
You’ll want to have a well-thought-out emergency plan. This could be as basic as having needed phone numbers at hand, and can extend to making sure you’re able to communicate with your loved one’s therapist and/or psychiatrist.
• Have the number for your local crisis center, many of whom are able to do outreaches into the person’s home. Crisis centers are often affiliated with local hospitals or community mental health centers (CMHCs) or mental health authorities (MHAs).
• Know how to activate the emergency response system in your area. For most of us this involves dialing 911. Always remember to stay on the line until instructed to hang up.
• Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This is a federally funded network of crisis centers located across the country. Tel: 800-273-TALK, or for the hearing impaired TTY:
Once the immediate crisis has passed, it’s important to decrease easy access to lethal substances and weapons. Impulsivity, one of the hallmarks of bipolar disorder, especially in the manic, hypomanic, and mixed episodes, predisposes a person to act without thinking things through. An urge to self-harm can come on quite quickly, and if lethal means are in easy reach the result can be catastrophic. Here are some things you can do diminish risk:
• Because over 50 percent of completed suicides involve firearms, ensure that there are no guns in the home.
• Keep potentially lethal means of overdose locked up.
• Someone in a severe mood episode should not operate a motor vehicle or heavy equipment.