Life Expectancy And Bipolar: Must We Die So Young?

I’ve touched on the issue of people with bipolar disorder having shorter life expectancy before, but upon doing some research I feel the need to go into it a little deeper. First of all, is it true? The bad news is the answer is “yes.” According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people diagnosed with bipolar disorder have an average lifespan that is 9.2 years less than the U.S. national average. The good news is that there is something you can do about it. The additional bad news is that it ain’t easy.

To begin with why so young? The primary factors seem to be

Suicide rate
Greater Risk of Chronic Disease
Lack of medical care.

Life expectancy


Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Among those with bipolar disorder 20% successfully commit suicide annually. Although women attempt suicide more than men, almost four times as many males as females die by suicide. One of the primary reasons for this discrepancy is that men and women differ on methods used. 56% of men use firearms compared to 30% of women. 13% of men use poison compared to 40% of women. Suffocation is nearly equal being 24% of men and 21% of women. To put it simply, firearms have a higher success rate than poisoning.

Many people say that committing suicide is a selfish act that only serves to permanently scar the loved ones you’ve left behind. I use to be one of them, but I looked back on my life and I’ve changed my thoughts. When I was at my worse, before medications kicked in, suicide was on my mind constantly and the only thing that kept me from going through with it were thoughts of my beautiful daughter and how devastating it would be for her. However, what about those times that I was on the verge of suicide and was either taken away by police or taken to the emergency room? What changed was that I thoroughly convinced myself that during those moments that everyone would be happier and better off without me, including my daughter. While I have not seen any studies on this subject, I’ve had conversations with others with suicide attempts and have gotten the same response. So, how does one get from a place that they know suicide inflicts pain on their loved ones to a place that they believe it is best for all? I wish I had the answer to that. I think it’d be an important study. Changing that thought process. I believe, would save many lives.

If you know someone who is talking about suicide, take it seriously. Urge them to get help from their doctor or the emergency room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It is available 24/7.

Given the high rate of suicides (20 %) amongst those with bipolar, is it any wonder that our average life expectancy is so low? It’s one aspect, but there are other factors as well. Over the next few days I’ll touch on chronic disease and lack of medical care, what their effects are and what you can do about them.

9 comments on Life Expectancy And Bipolar: Must We Die So Young?

  1. I have been “suicidal” most of my life, and have made several attempts. When I was 30, I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar Type I among other disorders. I was incredibly unstable for about 4 years until they finally got me on the right combination of meds, and even then, I was still a risk to myself.

    I did not understand the value of life until I nearly lost mine in yet another attempt to alleviate the constant dull ache of emotional pain that I felt. I came way too close to death for me, and I made a deal with the Universe that if I were allowed to live, this would be it. I have kept that promise for almost 7 years even through some very difficult emotional situations. But it is a hard promise to keep sometimes…..

    1. I’m glad you’re still with us. It may be a hard promise, but it’s an important one

      1. Yes it is…..but becoming a Buddhist has helped so much. It has provided the spiritual grounding that I believe every human being needs in order to survive in a healthy way

    2. If you contemplate suicide again, please know that unless you accept Jesus as you savior you will most certainly go to hell. I’m not trying to get on a soapbox but “the universe” is just a bunch of planets and stars. You can’t make a deal with it. God created the universe, and you. He loves you and can help you deal with your pain. I know, I’m in it right now. I’m bipolar and have had suicidal thoughts. God carries me through every day. Without Him I’d be dead already.

      1. Your Christian beliefs mean nothing to those of us who are not Christian. Bipolar disorder affects Jews and Muslims, Buddhists and athiests, as well as Christians. Please be respectful of all beliefs, especially when you don’t take the time to educate yourself on the basics of other religious beliefs. Suicide is devastating, as is living with a mind that tells you it is a solution. We have all been there. It is unhelpful to lecture people on your concept of Hell in an attempt to “scare” people straight. Understand that bipolar disorder is about disordered thinking and misperceptions. Please, just be respectful and mindful that your beliefs are not held by everyone. Living with this is hard enough.

  2. The opening post said that although bipolar disorder can shorten your life expectancy, the good news was that we can do something about it. I saw alot of suicide stats but no info about how to help lengthen your life, please direct me to the info about what we can do about this

  3. I have been treated by many psychologists and psychiatrists. I have been hospitalized. I have never met a medical professional who truly understands suicidal ideation. When it is intense you know with all your heart that you are HARMING your loved ones by remaining alive. If you were virtuous you would do what is best for your family and put yourself out of their misery.

    Talk therapy never helped me. SSRI’s apsychotics etc… no effect. I found psychiatry to be little different than than alchemy and astrology. They have a limited understanding of the universe and NO ability to change it. They give you platitudes (permanent solution to a temporary problem) and nostrums (Effexor). They do not know why the nostrums sometimes work or don’t, why they peter out etc. they care not about the side effects (“Side Effexor”)

    I wanted to try Ketamine infusions. My psychiatrist said she would fire me. So I saved her the angst and fired her. I went off all the meds (bye-bye lithium) I have been in remission for 5 years now. Towards the end of a Ketamine cycle the depression starts darkening the sky and the suicidal thoughts return only to be banished when I awaken from the next Ketamine treatment.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: