I talked to my mother on Dec. 25. She had spent the entire day in the emergency room with a gallbladder attack. The doctor on call suggested she contact a surgeon to have her gall bladder removed, but she would have to wait until after the holidays for an appointment. In the meantime, he prescribed pain medication to help ease her suffering. Little does the doctor know he eased her pain for the rest of her life.
My mother committed suicide on Dec. 27. She took the entire bottle of pain pills. My mother suffered from bipolar disorder and so do I. Does that mean I am more likely to commit suicide?
Let’s start at the beginning: bipolar disorder
According to Columbia University, bipolar disorder, or manic depression, is genetic. The gene passed from parent to child has yet to be identified, but researchers are making a concerted effort to find the gene in hopes of controlling the spread of manic depression. The disease was passed down from my mother to me, but that does not mean our reaction to the disease is the same.
Bipolar disorder is genetic, but is suicide?
Geneticists have recently found a link between genetics and suicide. According to research completed by scientists at John’s Hopkins, families with bipolar disorder tend to fall on the same side of suicidal thoughts. There are people who think about suicide and there are people who act on those thoughts. My mother acted on her thoughts of suicide, so that could mean I have the same “acting” genes.
Taking outside factors into consideration
Science may have linked suicide and genetics, but there are extenuating factors that often come into consideration. My mother, for instance, was suffering from a long list of health problems. She was in constant pain and she was an alcoholic. With a marriage on the rocks and another surgery on the horizon, she attempted suicide and was successful. If she was healthy and had the support of her husband emotionally, things could have ended differently.
Changing the face of bipolar and depression medications
Researchers are hoping the link between suicide and genetics changes how patients with bipolar disorder are medicated. Some medications increase the risk of suicide while others, like antiepileptic medications, are not shown to affect suicide risk.
According to Virginia Willour, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “What’s promising are the implications of this work for learning more about the biology of suicide and the medications used to treat patients who may be at risk … Not everyone with bipolar disorder can take lithium because of its side effects. If we could give them another option, that would be fantastic.”
More from Summer on Mental Health
Polypharmacy and Mental Health: Dangers of a Bipolar Cocktail
Grief Depression and Clinical Depression: Understanding the Signs
Could Estrogen Help Fight Post-Partum Depression?
The Columbia Bipolar Genetic Study
Genetic Link to Attempted Suicide Identified
Antiepileptic Drugs Not Linked to Suicide Among Those With Bipolar Disorder