Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes someone to experience mood changes rotating between mania and depression. Bipolar disorder can also increase a person’s risk of suicide.

Bipolar disorder (BD) can be chronic or episodic. If someone has chronic BD, they will experience constant recurring symptoms of the condition.

If a person has episodic BD, they will experience symptoms occasionally at regular intervals.

This article discusses whether BD increases a person’s risk of suicide. It also explains what treatments are available for BD and how someone with the condition can prevent suicidal ideations.

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BD can cause a person to experience manic and depressive episodes.

During manic episodes, individuals may experience high moods and feel extra happy. They may also feel extremely irritable or touchy.

During depressive episodes, a person may feel very down or sad. They may also experience anxiety and have difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

Another possible depressive symptom of BD is thinking about death or suicide.

Research also shows that BD can increase a person’s risk of suicide.

Learn more about BD.

A 2019 review states that the rate of suicide in people with BD is approximately 10 to 30 times higher than that in the general population.

It also notes that around 20% of those with BD die by suicide. It adds that most of these individuals have untreated BD.

The study adds that between 20% and 60% of people with this disorder attempt suicide at least once during their life.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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There are various factors that can increase the risk of suicidal ideation in a person with BD.

If someone needs to visit the hospital due to BD, the period soon after they leave the hospital often causes them to experience extremely high levels of suicidal ideation.

This means it is important that healthcare professionals do not prematurely discharge those with BD.

When a healthcare professional admits a person with BD to the hospital, the time immediately after admission can also cause an increased risk of suicide.

If a person has to spend time in the hospital frequently due to BD, they often have an increased risk of suicidal or self-harming behavior.

Another risk factor for suicidal ideation is the development of BD at a younger age.

A person is also at a higher risk of suicide during the first few years after receiving a diagnosis of BD.

Having BD alongside certain other mental health conditions can also increase someone’s risk of suicidal behavior. These conditions include:

Rapid cycling BD can also increase the risk of self-destructive behavior.

Experts define rapid cycling BD as having four or more episodes of depression or mania within 1 year.

A 2020 scientific review stated that other factors that can increase the risk of suicide in a person with BD include:

  • being male
  • living alone
  • being under 35 years of age or over 75 years of age
  • having gone through a divorce
  • having no children
  • being unemployed
  • having a family history of suicide or suicide attempts

Medication is the main treatment for BD. Healthcare professionals often use mood stabilizers to help manage the symptoms of BD.

Common mood stabilizers for BD include lithium and valproate.

These medications can help manage immediate symptoms of both manic and depressive episodes. They can also help prevent these episodes from occurring in the future.

Psychotherapy is another treatment option for people with BD. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that can be an effective treatment for BD.

Learn more about treatments for BD.

Treatments for BD can help prevent suicide.

Research shows that lithium is the most effective suicide prevention medication in people with BD. In comparison to a placebo, lithium can reduce the risk of suicide by over 60% in people with mood disorders.

Electroconvulsive therapy is often an effective treatment for depressive episodes in BD. Healthcare professionals also consider it a potentially effective treatment for preventing suicide in people with the condition.

There are few studies on the effects of psychotherapy on suicide prevention in BD. However, the results of the existing studies show psychotherapy is promising as a preventive measure for reducing the risk of suicide.

Bipolar disorder resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on bipolar disorder.

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Suicidal thoughts or actions are serious. If a person displays any of the following signs, they or someone close to them need to seek medical help.

Signs that someone may be at risk of suicide include:

  • expressing the desire to die or talking about killing themselves
  • regularly talking or thinking about death
  • feeling empty or hopeless
  • expressing that they have no reason to live
  • withdrawing from people close to them
  • feeling like they are a burden to others
  • feeling trapped
  • feeling like they have no solutions for their problems
  • experiencing extreme and unbearable pain that is emotional or physical
  • giving away important possessions
  • saying goodbye to people close to them
  • putting their affairs in order, including making a will
  • taking risks that endanger their life, such as driving dangerously

Bipolar disorder (BD) is a mental health condition that generally causes a person to experience manic and depressive episodes.

Research shows that BD can also increase someone’s risk of suicide.

A person is often at an increased risk of suicidal ideation in the period immediately after they have left the hospital following treatment for BD. The period immediately after a healthcare professional has admitted them to the hospital can also cause an increased risk of suicide.

Other risk factors for suicide in people with BD include being male, having experienced divorce, having no children, being unemployed, living alone, and having a family history of suicide or suicide attempts.

A person can lower their risk of suicide by treating BD. Treatments that help reduce a person’s risk of suicide include lithium and electroconvulsive therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy may also be effective in lowering a person’s risk of suicide.