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The Risk of Suicide for Bipolar Patients

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Bipolar disorder is notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat, and has a suicide rate of up to 20%. Studies suggest that half of people living with bipolar disorder have attempted to kill themselves.

Not all people with bipolar disorder have an equal suicide risk. Investigators who examined records from more than 32,000 members of two large prepaid health plans who had been treated for bipolar disorder determined that men with bipolar made fewer suicide attempts than women but were more likely than women to die when they did attempt suicide.

People who had high anxiety levels made more suicide attempts than other people with bipolar disorder and also were more likely to succeed in their attempts to kill themselves.

The following information from our A-Z Health Library can help you determine when to call a doctor and why type of professional may be able to help.

If you have bipolar disorder, call 911or other emergency servicesif you:

Think you cannot stop from harming yourself or someone else.
Hear voices that are new or more upsetting than normal.
Want to commit suicide, or you know someone who has mentioned wanting to commit suicide.
Warning signs of suicide include:

Use of illegal drugs or drinking alcohol heavily.
Talking, writing, or drawing about death, including writing suicide notes and speaking of items that can cause physical harm, such as pills, guns, or knives.
Spending long periods of time alone.
Giving away possessions.
Acting aggressive or suddenly appearing calm.
Watchful Waiting
Watchful waiting may be enough if a mood episode has just started and you are taking proper medicines. If your mood episode has not improved within 2 weeks, call your doctor.

If you have a loved one who is experiencing a manic episode and is behaving irrationally, help the person seek treatment.

Who To See
Bipolar disorder is complex and hard to diagnose because it has many phases and symptoms. Sometimes it is misdiagnosed as only depression (unipolar depression) because people are more likely to seek treatment during a period of depression.

After you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it is important to keep a long-term relationship with your doctor or therapist to make sure that your treatment is consistent and that your medicines can be adjusted as needed.

Although other health professionals can diagnose bipolar disorder, you will probably be referred to a psychiatrist who specializes in treating such disorders and can prescribe medicines and provide counseling. Other health professionals who can diagnose bipolar disorder include:

Family doctors (general practitioners).
Psychiatric nurse practitioners.
Counseling can help you deal with mood changes and the impact bipolar disorder can have on your work and family relationships. In addition to psychiatrists, health professionals who can provide counseling include:

Social workers.
Licensed professional counselors.
Family member support

If a loved one has bipolar disorder, it may be helpful for you to get counseling to deal with its impact on your own life. Manic episodes can be particularly difficult. Consult a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or licensed professional counselor for your own therapy.

Therapy can also be helpful for a child who has a bipolar parent. The parent's mood swings may negatively affect the child, causing tearfulness, anger, depression, or rebellious behavior.
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