The relationship between mental health and suicide is a complicated one. While the two conditions are related, they’re not necessarily synonymous with one another. To understand this complex relationship, here’s what you need to know:

Being diagnosed with a mental illness is not a death sentence. With proper treatment and support, patients with mental illness go on to lead long and healthy lives. In fact, the vast majority of people with a mental illness do not die by suicide, as illustrated by the statistics:

  • 85%-98% of people diagnosed with depression do not die by suicide
  • 80%-97% of people diagnosed with bipolar illness do not die by suicide
  • 85%-94% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia do not die by suicide

However, the majority (more than 90 per cent) of those who do die suicide have been diagnosed with a mental illness. People with mental illness do have higher rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide than the general population.

No single mental illness diagnosis is exclusively responsible for suicide. Being diagnosed as having a “bipolar” illness or “schizophrenia,” for example, does not mean that an individual is, or will become, suicidal. The truth is that different diagnoses carry varying risk factors, which are outlined in detail on the Canadian Mental Health Association website.

As an example, those diagnosed with bipolar disorder depression have a risk of suicide approximately 15 times that of the general population, while those with schizophrenia have a 40 per cent lifetime risk of suicide attempts. Those with personality disorders are three times more likely to die by suicide, a risk that’s increased if they also struggle with substance abuse or depression.

Being diagnosed with more than one mental illness may also increase the risk of suicide. Suffering from depression alongside other diagnoses, increases the likelihood of a suicide attempt. Those who suffer from substance abuse, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders or eating disorders, are at a higher risk of suicide if they also suffer from depression.

There are many risk factors that may indicate whether a person is thinking about attempting suicide. If a patient feels hopeless about the future, has recently been discharged from the hospital, has made a suicide attempt in the past, or has a family history of suicide, there is a higher risk that they may attempt to take their own life. Other factors that may increase the chance of attempted suicide include previous self-harm, severity of the illness, alcohol or drug abuse, serious or chronic physical illnesses and lack of a partner. Finally, there are also a number of signs and behaviours that indicate when someone may be at risk of suicide, which we have outlined here: suicide prevention warning signs.

People can proactively maintain their mental health and need to be educated on when to seek professional help. Left untreated, mental illness, such as substance abuse can lead to complications, which may increase risk of suicide. People who die by suicide are often experiencing undiagnosed or untreated depression, which is why it’s important to recognize the warning signs.

Regardless of whether it’s yourself or a loved one that you are concerned about, there are resources, people and caring professionals who are ready to help you cope and support your mental wellness.


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