Mental Disorders with High Suicide Rates

Understanding Mental Disorders with High Suicide Rates

Most everyone has experienced the pain from the aftermath of suicide, whether is it was a family member or a beloved celebrity. With suicide being the 10th leading cause of death for all ages, many friends and relatives have been left to wonder why a loved one would take their life. Studies are showing that there is an extremely high risk of suicide among people with major psychiatric disorders. Among them, bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia to name a few. Below are six mental disorders with a high risk of suicide and how you can help prevent that outcome.

Bipolar Disorder

The mental illness at highest risk of suicide is Bipolar Disorder, with 7.77 percent taking their own lives. Bipolar disorder is a condition in which the person experiences “extreme changes in mood, thought, energy and behavior.” It is also known as manic depression and affects over 2 million adult Americans.

With an onset during late teens to early adulthood, bipolar disorder does not discriminate as it is found among all ages, races, social classes and ethnic groups. In fact, Demi Lovato, an actor and singer, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 22. Since then, she has used her fame to bring attention to the illness and even said, “it’s possible to live well, feel well, and find happiness with bipolar disorder or any other mental illness [people are] struggling with.”

Though prevalent, this disorder is highly treatable with a specific combination of medications including mood stabilizers and antidepressants. There are non-medicinal courses of treatment as well. For Instance, Vagal Nerve Stimulation involves a device implanted to send signals to the Vagus Nerve to treat depression. Talk therapy is also suggested to complement medications.


Over 16 million American adults suffer from a major depressive episode each year.  Depression symptoms can be so debilitating that the individual suffering from it can become impaired, unable to perform the most basic daily functions.  Depression symptoms include persistent sadness, fatigue, insomnia or hypersomnia, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, feelings of despair and hopelessness, slowed motor skills, appetite and weight changes, and suicide ideation.

The causes of depression are complex and difficult to pinpoint, but can include a genetic feature with a family history of depression, traumatic or emotionally difficult life events, and medical conditions or medications.  According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the risk of suicide among individuals who suffer from depression rises with the severity of the disorder.  Also, among those who completed suicide, 60% had a mood disorder, including depression or bipolar disorder. Suicide rates among men are 7 times the rate of women, and suicide among young adults or teens is often related to depression and substance abuse, or a dual diagnosis.

Depression can be treated by the use of antidepressant medications and psychotherapy, which will help alleviate symptoms in 30%-70% of patients with major depressive disorder.  Alternative treatment methods, such as brain stimulation therapies like TMS, have been successful in helping individuals who were unresponsive to antidepressant therapy.


With a rate of 6.55 percent, schizophrenia clocks in as the 3rd highest mental illness resulting in suicide. While the causes of schizophrenia are still debated, scientists have recognized a link to genetics and that the disorder tends to run in families. It may lie dormant for some time until it’s triggered by hormones, physical changes or stressful situations, and is believed to be an imbalance of brain chemicals.

Schizophrenia is commonly shown in the movies and media as a person who hears voices and sees hallucinations. That is a symptom, but just one of many a person with this disorder will experience. Other symptoms for the illness include delusions. Schizophrenia sufferers may also exhibit disordered thinking and speech; speaking in gibberish, or repeating words and ideas. In conjunction with speech, disorganized behavior also manifests in ways like wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather, problems with hygiene and unprovoked outbursts.

No cure currently exists for schizophrenia, but with proper treatment, many people can go on to live happy, normal, fulfilled lives. Treatment for this illness includes antipsychotic drugs, as well as rehabilitation services. With therapy, self-help groups, housing and employment groups and drop-in centers, there are many resources for those who are living with this disorder. A Google search can find schizophrenia treatment centers near you.

Substance Abuse or Addiction

Substance abuse ranks right behind mental health disorders as risk factors associated with suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  In fact, research has shown that alcoholics have a five times greater risk of committing suicide as non-alcoholics.  Addiction often leads to a snowballing cascade of negative consequences, including loss of a job, a marriage, financial fallout, and failing health, which can compound the negative effects of the substance abuse and lead to despair and hopelessness.  Suicide may eventually be seen as the only way out.

Substance use disorders can impact people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds.  What may have begun as recreational drug experimentation, or even using prescribed painkillers following a surgery, can develop into dependence on the substance as tolerance increases and more of the substance is needed to be able to experience the same effect as earlier.  As dependency deepens, more negative life consequences result.

Getting treatment for a substance use disorder is an essential offensive measure for suicide prevention.  Addiction is highly treatable and managed, so should be the first line of defense regarding risk of suicide.  Treatment programs, either outpatient or inpatient, offer multiple therapies that work together to help the individual struggling with addiction change their disordered thought and behavior patterns that contributed to the addictive behaviors.  Also, medication-assisted treatment, using a prescribed drug during early recovery to block cravings, can also be effective in sustaining recovery.

Unipolar Disorder

Also known as major depressive disorder, this is like bipolar without the manic highs, and the resulting suicide rate is about 6.67 percent. Depression is not simply feeling sad in reaction to normal lifetime occurrences like loss, changes, or catastrophes. It is a prolonged sadness, which impairs every day function. It affects weight, appetite, sleep and energy and needs to be treated for recovery.

Treatment for unipolar disorder includes medications which could be weaned when reaching a point of no longer exhibiting symptoms. Chronic recurrences of depression will need to be treated preventatively and, like bipolar, talk therapy is suggested.

Eating Disorders

Of all the mental illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate, though not the highest suicide rate. 30-50 percent of anorexics have a comorbid (occurring at the same time) mood disorder, and about one in five anorexia deaths is by suicide. In fact, every 62 minutes, at least one person will succumb to damage done by an eating disorder.

Just as other mental illnesses, eating disorders are overwhelmingly related to physiology with 50-80 percent of the risk coming from genetics.

This illness is not just a woman’s illness as generally characterized in media and movies. The rate of men with eating disorders is on the rise with 40 percent of those with a binge eating disorder being male. Famous actor and comedian, Russell Brand, has spoken about his struggle with bulimia. At the time he said, “it was really unusual in boys, quite embarrassing. But I found it euphoric.” He has since received treatment and currently helps raise funds for addiction recovery programs.

There is no medication for eating disorders, so the only way to combat this illness is by psychotherapy or psychological counseling. Effective, long-term recovery has been achieved with a combination of these and special attention to nutritional and medical needs.

Final words on Mental Disorders with High Suicide Rates

Every mental illness carries with it some risk of suicide. Sadly, most people have felt the sting of death as a loved one succumbs to their disorder, leaving them feeling helpless. However, with awareness and treatment, you don’t have to be helpless. If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental disorder, don’t withdraw. Engage, fight, seek treatment and don’t become a statistic, become a survivor.

Receiving Help and Treatment

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health condition and need help, call to connect with a treatment center at 866-644-7911 and receive personalized guidance and treatment options.

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1 reply
  1. T Barber says:

    You seem to have missed out borderline personality disorder. This mental illness has an 8 – 10% suicide completion rate and a 70 – 80% rate for suicide attempts. Should be right up there on your list if you ask me.


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