As a teen, why do I get suicidal if I have bipolar disorder?

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Ms. Julie A. Fast
Mental Health
I had my first suicidal episode when I was 19. My first boyfriend broke up with me and I simply didn’t want to live. I had no idea it was bipolar disorder. My deep despair and crying unhappiness covered me like a blanket. I thought about him and how I would never be in love again and then started thinking about what it would be like to be dead. That would be a solution right? I rode my bike next to a bus on a busy street and had the thought- I could just drift over a bit and it would all be over.
Luckily, I didn’t do it. Or I would not be here to talk to you, would I?
I now know that suicidal thoughts are CHEMICAL and a natural part of bipolar disorder. People without a chemical imbalance in their brains do not have suicidal thoughts. What is happening in the brain when you get suicidal? I asked my coauthor Dr. John Preston the question.
What happens in the brain when I’m suicidal?
At least two brain changes are associated with the intense emotional suffering of bipolar depression. The first is a dysfunction in the dopamine neurotransmitter system. Dopamine is the neuro-chemical of pleasure and of enthusiasm. When this neurotransmitter is depleted, it causes a symptom called anhedonia. This is a complete inability to experience even moments of happiness, aliveness or vitality. People no longer engage in meaningful life activities. Life starts to feel empty and meaningless. Another factor is intense anxiety, which is seen in about 50% of people suffering from bipolar depression. Intense anxiety in the context of bipolar depression has been found to significantly increase suicidal risk. People suffering with this may feel enormous restlessness or even agitation. The combination of anhedonia and extreme anxiety can be a recipe for suicidal feelings.
It’s chemical guys!
My friend Sharon has had multiple suicide attempts. She said, “I honestly didn’t know what I was doing. The thoughts were stronger than my will to live. I thought suicide would end my pain. I didn’t realize it would end my life. I found other ways to get better- such as medications and always calling my doctor or a friend. Suicide doesn’t solve anything. I’m very glad to be alive.”
I was suicidal a few days ago. It was my typical downswing filled with loneliness and crying. I said to myself, “It’s chemical, Julie. and then I focused on what I needed to do in life to get better.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.