People with bipolar disorder have a suicide risk ranging between 19% and 24%. Of all mental illnesses, bipolar disorder is associated with the highest risk of suicide, higher even than depression. Somewhere around .31% of bipolar patients kill themselves every year.
For those of you who need a few terms defined:
Bipolar disorder is what we now call the disease once known as Manic-Depression. Those of us with bipolar II enjoy depression and hypomania rather than depression and out and out mania, as is experienced by those with bipolar I.
The OED defines hypomania thusly "A minor form of mania, often part of the manic-depressive cycle, characterized by elation and a feeling of well-being together with quickness of thought." Mania is defined as "...one of the aspects of bipolar (manic-depressive) mood disorder, characterized particularly by euphoria, grandiose thought, rapid speech expressing loosely connected thoughts (flight of ideas), decreased need for sleep, increased physical activity, and sometimes delusions or hallucinations." Those are fine definitions, but they don't much assist the layman in comprehending the difference. So let me see if I can be more instructive.
This is hypomania: You wake up in the morning; make four lunches, preparing three individual sandwiches (one peanut butter, no jelly. One turkey with mayo, one turkey without mayo but with tomato, blotted dry so it doesn't make the bread soggy) and a thermos of soup. Each lunch gets a drink, two snacks, and a piece of fruit. You wake, dress, and feed four children, reminding everyone to take vitamins, and Omega III. You sign permission slips, and load up carpool. Then you go to the gym, do email, make plane reservations for family vacation, copy-edit essay, put finishing touches on novel, revise short story for submission to anthology, drop off meal for family with new baby at preschool, and order new bathing suits for everybody because, suddenly, despite the fact that it is February you decide that everyone needs new bathing suits and that if a single day passes without each and every member of the family having a new bathing suit the well-being of the family will collapse. Then you reorganize the kitchen hell drawer, go online and order nine superpacks of size 4 diapers (and swim diapers for the baby, too, because, after all, what's a bathing suit for a baby without a swim diaper underneath it?). Then you pick up the children from school. You never, never, do anything without talking on the phone at the same time. Most of these phone conversations should involve volunteering for things you don't actually want to do but feel you should. That is a day in the life of the average hypomanic.
Mania. Well, hmm. I've never actually suffered from a manic episode, but here's one I've seen fairly close-at-hand. Imagine if you will, Bloomingdales, circa 1982. 10,000 dollars is spent in approximately 11 minutes. Think grandiosity, agitation, inability to focus, hostility, and complete and total lack of control.
All in all, hypomanic is what you want to be. Hypomania is why I can do things like write three books in seven months. Hypomania is, in fact, the bomb. Hypomania is also linked to a 24% suicide risk. You heard me. Us bipolar II folks have an even higher risk of suicide than those with bipolar I.
Twenty-four percent. That's almost a quarter. A one in four chance, if you'll permit me the indulgence of rounding up. Let's put that number in perspective. The chances of dying while attempting an ascent of K2 are approximately 5%.
Awareness of the suicide risk, awareness of the subtleties of the disease and its chemical nature, do nothing to alleviate the risk of death. It does not help to know that one's mood is a mystery of neurochemistry when one is tallying the contents of the medicine cabinet and evaluating the neurotoxic effects of a Tylenol, topomax, SRRI and ambien cocktail.
All in all, as heritable diseases go, I think I would have preferred something else. Diabetes, say, or color-blindness. Wait, I forgot, we've got both of those. The former is on my husband's side of the family, and Zeke can't tell his reds from his greens.
This is what happens when you insist on marrying people from the same few square miles of Jewish Pale. Michael and I might as well be cousins for all the genetic diversity we've got going on. I'm going to force my children to travel to the far reaches of the globe when it's time for them to marry. We need to shake up this gene pool a little.