“At least 25% to 50% of patients with bipolar disorder also attempt suicide at least once.” – Jamison KR(2000)
“recent researchers have suggested that the lifetime suicide risk may be lower. The group of bipolar patients at highest risk of suicide are young men who are in an early phase of the illness, especially those who have made a previous suicide attempt, those abusing alcohol, and those recently discharged from the hospital. The risk is also increased in patients who are in the depressed phase of bipolar illness, who have mixed states, or who have psychotic mania”. – Jamison KR (2000)
“people suffering from bipolar disorder are more likely to attempt suicide than those suffering from regular depression. Furthermore, their suicide attempts tend to be more lethal.” – Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. (2016)
“even higher in people with bipolar disorder who have frequent depressive episodes, mixed episodes, a history of alcohol or drug abuse, a family history of suicide, or an early onset of the disease.” – Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.(2016)http://www.helpguide.org/articles/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-disorder-signs-and-symptoms.htm
I remember walking out into my shed on a cold November evening in 2012. I remember putting my hand on the cold silver door knob and opening it nervously. My husband had been acting odd for the last year on and off. He had just suffered a period of severe depression which I attributed to his impulsively quitting his well paid job as a carpenter with a home building company in spring. He had finally come out of his depression, and found employment with another construction company, and was acting like my husband come September and October. But by the end of October, I realized something was off again. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
It’s funny how your mind will rationalize the irrational. You’ll fun some excuse or argue some logic into a situation despite your gut telling you something is off. I wish I would’ve listened to my gut.
When I opened the door I found my husband’s once organized shed in complete disarray. He had began hanging cords off the roof, spray painted the windows, and had been painting some of our old nick-knacks. He was always creative, but this was a little much even for him.
I stepped into the shed quietly, as though I might be caught doing something forbidden. The far wall had been decorated with screws and tools, which initially didn’t seem that strange. I remember thinking “maybe he’s just trying to make it more functional” but something about the spray painted windows and hanging ‘ décor’ made me nervous.
As I turned to leave, my eye caught a rope that looked like it had been thrown on the floor. I picked it up to roll the rope back up so as not to trip someone. I started to untangled it, but stopped dead when I came to the end of the cord. At the end of the rope a noose had been tied, carefully and precisely. Now, my heart raced and I started to draw conclusions. But I remembered my husband grew up on a farm herding cows, and helping his dad tender to the animals. He liked tying knots and he liked playing with the ropes. Maybe I was overthinking this. I finished rolling the rope and placed it tidily back on the shelving unit. My best friend came over and agreed that I may have been over reacting. He was after all a farm boy…
Looking back, I believe my husband had made a previous attempt at that time. Or was planning to but when the mania took hold of him, he became to unorganized to act it out. I believe when he became depressed that summer, he created a backup if he didn’t come out of his pain. He once told me during one of his depressions that he was having visions of “being sliced apart by swords”. I can’t even imagine the agony this caused him.
That evening was the first of many for me that I stayed up wondering what was going on with the man I loved. Attempts at reaching out to his family were met with hostility and blame. He had made me out to be the cause of all of his problems due to the arguing over his staying up and out all hours of the night, and his actions not meeting up with his words.
I thought maybe he was going through a midlife crisis early. Late nights out had me wondering if he had an affair. What tugs at me is when he was in his depression that Summer I had come across a mental health site during a google search. When I read about bipolar disorder I knew it fit. His up and quitting his job one day to start his own business with no plan or business experience. The delusions of grandeur. His deep depression. When I asked him to go talk to someone as I thought this was a possibility he laughed, and made a comment about being fine or something along those lines.
I wish I would’ve trusted my gut and pushed harder to get him help at that time.
He became suicidal again four months after diagnosis. He spent a measly two and a half weeks in the hospital during his mania, and this was when he was diagnosed. January, 2013. By May 2013, the day after Mother’s Day, my husband attempted to hang himself with a belt off the back of our bedroom door… the same way my Uncle had a few years before. The belt slipped thankfully, and when my husband came to, he was sitting in a soaked carpet of his own urine, wondering what happened. The first person he called was me.
He was hospitalized for five weeks, and after a med cocktail of lithium, Wellbutrin and Effexor failed to get him back to his old self, the Dr. recommended ECT treatment. This worked to get him out of his depression, but he would eventually fall back into the darkness.
My husband was a high risk for suicide. He was addicted to marijuana, suffered from psychosis, had previous suicide attempts and his uncle, and my uncle also completed suicide. When someone you love dies by suicide, your risk for suicide increases. I’ve read numerous times suicide can run in families. Not necessarily genetically, but because the act of the one you love taking their own life makes you taking your own life an option. The impossible becomes possible.
He had hospitalizations and though he had supports, many of his social supports had disappeared as to not enable him; and his behavior while manic isolated him as well. Many of his friends only heard from him this last year when he needed money or wanted marijuana. Mania made him narcissistic and difficult to communicate with. He became delusional. Add to the loss of a social support system, the fact that he was young a young male, age 32 and early in the stages of diagnosis, my Peter(nickname) was a perfect fit if you compare him to the stats above.
Then there was the loss of us. His family. On many occasions throughout our life together he would randomly state, “please never leave me” or “I’d be lost without you.” We grounded him. We gave him love and reason, yet all the love in the world couldn’t have stopped the illness from changing him and when it comes to mania or depression, there is no reason. At some point, I had to put my children first and make some very hard decisions. I still loved him, in fact even more than I had when we married. But I needed to set boundaries. Healthy ones. I was protecting the children from the addiction and the illness. Not from him. Him dying wasn’t a part of the plan; him going to the hospital was.
All of these factors made Anthony a high risk to die by suicide. Bipolar disorder is often referenced to as a deadly illness if left untreated( I personally hate the following analogies, but for the purpose of this post, I’ll go ahead) Just as diabetes or heart disease. His brain gave out, and he lost the battle to cope. Just as his heart would have lost the battle to pump blood if he had a heart disease and didn’t take his medication. Only heart disease doesn’t turn the soul of the love of your life into someone unrecognizable. Mental illness does. It made him believe the only way out was to end his life. His mind lied to him.
After he died, I was told about his making statements about being a burden to his family, saying he didn’t trust his own mind, talking about where he wanted his ashes spread, and how he started vomiting again daily from the anxiety. I had taken a suicide prevention course through work, and these are all red flags. His previous suicide attempt occurred almost exactly at the same time of the year. Mother’s Day. His mom was killed in an accident 10 years ago and this was a high risk time for him. Still, he was making plans for his future, and talking about his next visit with our daughter with me. He was stuck and in a brief moment of not being able to cope, he reacted the only way he thought would end his pain. He wasn’t thinking about the pain and grief his death would cause others.
Suicide prevention training is so important. Had his Family known the signs, they may have been able to intervene sooner. But even with training, it is difficult to get your loved one help because of stigma and fear of hospitalization, a lifetime of medications. The day before his previous attempt, I asked my husband to go to the hospital as I was worried he was slipping. The next morning he had come home early from work, stating he was too exhausted to work and a few hours later he almost died. I regretted not making him go, but what else could I have done? What else could they have done?
Still, I feel education for care givers of people at risk for suicide is important. In fact it’s important for everyone to recognize the signs and the risks. It’s important we talk about it and recognize it as a symptom to a much bigger problem.
If you or someone you love, is considering suicide, please call your local suicide hotline, a friend, or go to a hospital. You are not weak. You are not crazy. You deserve to feel better and know you are loved. Get support in your battle to live. You’re worth it. Believe me.
I just wish he would’ve…