More Ways to Die from Bipolar Disorder
As I said last week, bipolar disorder can be a lethal disease. My point was that suicide can be a symptom of bipolar disorder and this is the cause of death for many people.
However, there are other ways to die from bipolar disorder as well. In fact, suicide is not even the most common cause.
People with Mental Illness Die Sooner Than Others
According to Dr. Steven Dilsaver, a psychiatrist who specializes in bipolar disorder (in a personal email to me),
The findings indicate that the chronically persistently mentally ill . . . die an average of about 25 years earlier than expected. The primary cause is cardiovascular disease. Suicide enters into the equation but is not the primary cause.
Why Do People with Mental Illnesses Die 25 Years Sooner?
Of course, there are many reasons that people with bipolar disorder suffer from early mortality. There is discussion on this in the medical community. Possible causes of early death in the chronically mentally ill include:
- Lifestyle factors
- Metabolic effects of medications
- The disease itself (its effects on organ systems, immunity and inflammation)
- Poor access to healthcare
To the best of my knowledge, even accidental deaths are overrepresented in people with a mental illness. (This makes sense when you consider severe mood episodes.)
How Do People with a Mental Illness Prevent Early Mortality?
In my view, many people with serious mental illnesses just don’t have the ability to prevent their own early mortality because they are not getting quality healthcare due to socioeconomic factors. However, for those of us not in that boat (luckily), I believe we can beat the early mortality, at least to some degree.
As I said, we need to manage the risk of suicide in bipolar disorder, but in addition to that, we need to:
- Manage our bipolar disorder and become symptom-free if at all possible (this includes medication adherence). This reduces the chance of relapse and reduces the impact bipolar disorder has on the body.
- Live a healthy lifestyle as much as possible with a quality diet and exercise – I know this isn’t always possible, especially if your disease is not well controlled, but it is a goal.
- Try to stay on medications that do not affect blood sugar. Believe me, some medications are known for killer blood sugar impact while others aren’t – ask your doctor and make sure you’re getting regular blood tests. Again, this isn’t an option for everyone.
- Maintain a healthy weight as much as possible.
- Access healthcare whenever appropriate (like for annual physicals) and take care of comorbid conditions as well as bipolar disorder (including anxiety and substance abuse).
Managing the Risk of Early Mortality in Bipolar Disorder
Managing our risks is the good news and the bad news. The good news is we can defeat many of the factors that produce early mortality. The bad news is we likely can’t conquer all the factors that lead to early mortality in bipolar disorder. Nevertheless, using the above management techniques gives us the best chance and empowers us so we don’t feel like victims of a statistic.