Cause of Death: Bipolar Disorder, Mental Illness
Have you ever heard of mental illness being a cause of death? Cause of death: schizophrenia or cause of death: bipolar or cause of death: anorexia? No? Me neither. That’s in spite of the fact that for some mental illnesses, like depression and bipolar, suicide attempts are an actual symptom of the illness. In other words, if a person dies by suicide and they’re bipolar, really, the cause of death is bipolar. So why don’t we popularly recognize mental illness as a cause of death?
Bipolar as A Cause of Death
As I recently remarked on a piece on bipolar depression and exercise, people with bipolar disorder have a higher risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome (and, yes, these are risks that go beyond medication side effects). But if a person with bipolar died of cardiovascular disease, the cause of death would never be bipolar even though it’s bipolar that may have been the causational factor (or not, it’s hard to say).
With suicide it’s even clearer. One symptom of bipolar disorder is suicidal ideation and/or suicide attempt(s) and we know that 25-50% of people with bipolar disorder will, in fact, attempt suicide (depending on the study). What’s more, current data suggests 11% will die of suicide. That’s more than 1-in-10. And yet, still, bipolar is never listed as a cause of death.
Suicide Listed as A Cause of Death
In fact, in many instances, even suicide is not listed as a cause of death. People actively try to avoid citing suicide as a cause of death. I think this isn’t fair, accurate or right. Yes, it hurts the family when the cause of death is suicide, no doubt, but the person is dead either way so how about we deal with reality instead of a slightly more comfortable lie?
Stigma around Mental Illness, Bipolar as A Cause of Death
Oh, yes, I get it. No one wants to admit that a loved one has died by suicide and no one wants to admit that his or her loved one had a serious mental illness. Hello mental illness stigma.
And people may think this is an acceptable cover-up, after all, why make death any more uncomfortable for people?
I’ll tell you why, because until we deal with the truth underlying bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses we can’t expect to beat them. I tell audiences all the time to learn the facts about bipolar disorder because you cannot defeat an enemy you do not understand and this falls squarely into that territory. We need to know that mental illness kills people. We need to be able to admit it. We need to be able to say it. Because until we do, mental illness will simply remain in the shadows with more and more stigma building every day.
There is nothing wrong and nothing shameful about admitting that a serious mental illness took the life of someone you love. You wouldn’t hesitate to say that cancer killed a loved one or that heart disease was a cause of death – why is mental illness any different? It isn’t. We can’t let it be. If we say we want mental illness to be treated like any other illness then this is an area we have to change. Bipolar has almost taken my life and I hope that if one day it finally kills me altogether, my family and friends have the courage to say that my cause of death was bipolar disorder. Maybe saying this truth will underscore the importance of dealing with and medically treating serious mental illnesses.
Tracy, N. (2015, April 7). Cause of Death: Bipolar Disorder, Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2015/04/cause-of-death-bipolar-disorder-mental-illness
Author: Natasha Tracy
Patty Duke, Age 69
DOB Dec 14, 1946 to
DOD March 29, 2016, 1:20 AM
"Cause Of Death Sepsis"
Carrie Fischer, Age 60
DOB Oct 21, 1956
DOD Dec 27, 2016, 8:55 AM
"Cause Of Death Heart Attack"
Numerous articles all over the internet will attest to the fact that bipolar disorder greatly contributes to shortening the livespan of individuals with bipolar by as much as 8 to 10 years
I'm sorry you're feeling that way but you need to see a medical professional for a diagnosis. Try a psychologist or a medical doctor.
- Natasha Tracy
I am living proof,it is by the grace of God that i am still here today.I stopped my med,s and i went into a tail spin. I became highely paronoid, went without sleep for months. My friend said thats not humanely possiable. I said are you calling me a liar. I went without eating.
My body was shutting down my eyes became blurry,i couldnt hold a thaught for long,My thaughts were racing.I couldn,t be around anyone negative. My mom would tell me to go to the hospital and get back on my med,s and i would get made at her.I had an out of body experience.
It was scary and i dont wish it on anyone. I just wanted to say to others who have a mental illness never go off your med,s.Don,t let others who dont understand the illness to convince you otherwise.
died from "sleep walking". Really?
Come on. He "fell" off his balcony in the middle of the night? More than likely he committed suicide but again I doubt you will ever get his loved ones to admit it...
Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light
And as per the motto on my family crest
Dum spiro spero (while I still breathe, I have hope)
Yes, while have breath I will continue to fight/rage against
the dying of the light/hope.
I will not let this illness break me and neither should you!
I believe very stressful life events/environmental factors can change someones brain chemistry and play a large part in contributing to mental illness, it's not only in the genes. It's well known that our mental health can affect our physical and spiritual health as well and vice versa. Whether it's the chicken or the egg is a matter of perspective
It does seem though that the list of mental illnesses are growing as evidence by the DSM which is constantly being revised.
Suicide can be a symptom of a lot of different forms of mental illness (it can also be a side effect of many types of medications) so technically speaking, what then would you list as the 'correct' cause of death
There are no medical tests to date that can be performed to definitively confirm what the 'correct' diagnosis is and in the case of multiple diagnosis how would you determine which diagnosis and or medication (since so many people are on a number of different medications as well) actually CAUSED (versus was a contributing factor to) the the actual death.
I believe that lot of the diseases listed above such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, etc can be attributable to the bipolar medications alone and not the specific mental illness and yes the contributing factors to these diseases go beyond that of the medication itself
You could conceivably make the same argument for morbid obesity as you could for for bipolar. I am willing to bet that you will never see morbid obesity listed as a cause of death either although it can be considered a serious contributing factor as in the case of cardiovascular disease.
Although I have not been privy to the detailed longer version of the death certificates that are available where I live I am willing to bet that they list some of these contributing factors, such as mental illness, etc within them especially since they are often used in lawsuits
If a surviving family member chooses to indicate in an obituary that their loved one struggled with mental illness that's their prerogative I guess but I suspect it's often left out because of a guilt factor. Believing that somehow they were responsible, that there was something more they could have done... Which in many cases is a LIE. You are not responsible for the choices another person makes, such as whether or not they choose to comply with the treatment options available to them
I believe that mental illness is a horrible blight that can literally suck the life out of BOTH the unfortunate individual who has it and the loved ones/caregivers who also tend to them
I suppose it seems like I'm splitting hairs, but I believe suicide is always a choice. The symptoms of mental illness make it a very attractive choice, and it can make it seem like the only choice. Choice making is impaired by the symptoms of mental illness too. So in some cases suicide may be almost inevitable. Almost.
But if I was to say that suicide is a symptom of mental illness in the same way as depressed mood is a symptom, we might overlook the specific supports needed to prevent someone DECIDING to die. Social support, for example, is crucial in making it difficult for someone to die by suicide. This and many other SPECIFIC interventions are needed to both treat the illness, but just generally get the person out of that trapped situation. If you just focus on treating the depression without looking at the circumstances around which the person would choose suicide, then you may fail to prevent it.
I am not denying the hefty link nor am I discouraging any awareness campaigns about this link. In fact I am thoroughly behind what Natasha is saying. It is important to show the LINK between bipolar and suicide. However that fact remains that suicide is the cause of death and not bipolar. The difference between causation and a 'hefty' correlation.
In Canada there are two types of death certificates. The general short version and the longer detailed version. The longer version is harder to get and is usually only available when some chooses to sue over wrongful death
By nature all autopsies are concerned with the PHYSICAL cause of death only. A mental illness is just that mental. Until a brain scan can differentiate which type of mental illness was the specific cause I doubt that it will ever be specifically listed as a cause of death
Suicide is only listed on autopsy reports/death certificates to differentiate between accidental injury and intended injury. Insurance policies have suicide clauses. The reason it's often left off is out of consideration of those who are left behind to clean up the mess and pick up the pieces of their life. You know the ones who actually have the courage to go on living despite all odds
My mother died of a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. I got a copy of her autopsy report and death certificate. In my opinion it was a cowardly selfish act of violence on her part and I say that as one who also suffers from mental illness
Just because 11% of people with bipolar disorder die by suicide does not mean that the suicide was caused by the bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder however is obviously a major correlated factor.
In my own case, I have contemplated suicide once and this was when I first realised I was seriously mentally ill. I just didn't want to live with the pain forever and I didn't want to inflict it on people around me. There were other factors too. I had no hope. This option was in the back of my mind for a couple of years, in fact, in and out of various mood states. It was not a case of being depressed.
It was more about trying to control the situation. Bipolar was the main contributing factor, but would not have been the actual cause if I had chosen to leave at that time.
So I still have to fight this damned illness everyday but I choose life.