suicide prevention day: suicide and mental illnesses

It’s finally suicide prevention day! For the concluding post of this (very short) series of posts, I’m going to write about suicide and mental illnesses (in case you haven’t already figured it out from the title). Main points I want to get across are
(1) Mental illnesses are to be taken seriously.
(2) Mental illnesses needn’t necessarily end in suicide; it’s not the end.

First off, here are some facts and figures about mental illnesses and suicide:

  • An estimated 2-15 % of persons who have been diagnosed with major depression die by suicide. Suicide risk is highest in depressed individuals who feel hopeless about the future, those who have just been discharged from the hospital, those who have a family history of suicide and those who have made a suicide attempt in the past.

  • An estimated 3-20% of persons who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder die by suicide. Hopelessness, recent hospital discharge, family history, and prior suicide attempts all raise the risk of suicide in these individuals.

  • An estimated 6-15% of persons diagnosed with schizophrenia die by suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of premature death in those diagnosed with schizophrenia. Between 75 and 95% of these individuals are male

    ~ as cited in University of Washington

The highest three illnesses associated with suicide are major depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia. Major depression and bipolar should not come as a surprise. Why, then, are these illnesses not being taking seriously?

Let’s bring this closer to home. There are many boys in Singapore who get out of National Service by faking mental illnesses. Most commonly, depression. In just the past five years, I have met two people who have done so (and I did not try to conceal my disdain).

It is because of people like that, who shamelessly use mental illnesses as an excuse to get out of duties, that they are not being taken seriously. It is because of people like that that cause others to believe things like depression are made up.

Major depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia are very real illnesses. They are as real as cancer. In fact, they are also known to have biological causes. This means that it is out of a person’s control whether (s)he gets the illness or not, much like cancer. There are factors, including gene-envinroment interactions, that may increase or decrease one’s susceptibility to developing mental disorders, again, much like cancer.

Major depression and bipolar fall under the category of  mood disorder. Schizophrenia, on the other hand, is a psychotic disorder.

Major depression is often dismissed, especially in adolescents, as just being difficult or lazy. What is perceived as laziness is actually a severe lack of motivation. Not just motivation to do work, but motivation to live altogether (this includes doing ‘fun’ things like going out with friends). Despite the fact that it takes depressives additional effort to bring themselves to do what you deem normal, such as going to the bathroom, they are still able to accomplish plenty, like J.K. Rowling.

Bipolar is less understood by the general public than major depression is. Bipolar can be further split into bipolar-I and bipolar-II. Characteristics of bipolar-I include manic episodes. Bipolar-II on the other hand, include hypomanic and depressive episodes. I’m not here to talk about diagnostic criteria, though. Bipolar is sometimes seen as an artist’s best inspiration. The most commonly used example of this is Vincent Van Gogh, who is well known for his painting, The Starry Night.

While there is a negative connotation to the word “psychotic”, those with schizophrenia are not people who deserve to be locked up. With appropriate treatment, schizophrenics can contribute to society as much – if not more – than you can. Take for example Dr. John Forbes Nash Jr., a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician who lived with paranoid schizophrenia.

Mental illnesses need not necessarily lead to suicide – we can stop it, if we take it seriously enough. People need to stop faking mental illnesses just because they’re selfish.
Mental illnesses do not make someone an invalid – we need to look past the label and realise that they are not walking diagnoses, and they are so much more than their illness.

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