Suicide and Mental Illness August 19, 2010Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Medication, mental illness, Mental Illness and Medication, Psychiatrists, Suicide.
Tags: mental illness, Mental Illness Medication, Suicide
While at the NAMI Conference this past weekend, I was exposed to the concept of suicide in all its forms except for one. With the exception of seeing someone actually commit the act in front of me, almost all other aspects were covered in some form by someone or something at the conference.
There was the mother/daughter team that dealt with attempted suicide many times as a symptom of the daughter’s bipolar disorder. There was the wife who serenaded us about her survival from her husband’s unexpected suicide. There was the daughter whose father committed suicide during the filming of a documentary about him (“Unlisted”). There was the woman whose son committed suicide (“When Medicine Got It Wrong”). Suicide was everywhere. There was even a booth addressing the various aspects of suicide, all from the standpoint of the family.
Missing was in-depth coverage of suicide from the perspective of someone who considered it or tried it. I know these people are around. I qualify for the first part and know people who qualify for the second part.
Back in July 2008, after I was released from the mental hospital, I had a major relapse of symptoms. The choice I was given by my psychiatrist was to either return to the mental hospital or go on a drug called Haldol.
Wishing to stay out of the hospital at any cost, I chose the Haldol. I should have had a clue about the task I was to undertake (stopping the psychotic symptoms dead in their tracks) when I had trouble filling the prescription. The usual dose carried by pharmacies is .5 mg. My prescription was for 5 mg. Calling around to various pharmacies, we finally found a Fred Meyer pharmacy that carried the dose I needed.
Taking the pills the second I got in the car, I felt the symptoms subside within hours. But the prescription said to continue the Haldol beyond the point that the symptoms disappeared. As I continued the Haldol, I became more emotional, crying at nothing at all. My husband took me to a very nice restaurant for our 25th wedding anniversary, and I could do nothing but sit across from him and cry. Fortunately it was summertime, so I had an excuse for wearing dark sunglasses. It was a miserable time for both of us.
At around the second week of taking the drug, I got the twinge of a desire to commit suicide. As the days progressed, my desire got stronger. I cried and cried, wanting desperately to end my life. I spent hours thinking about the method I would use to do it. That was my sole focus. My guns were gone, confiscated by my dad as a condition of my release from the mental hospital. I didn’t think I could get away with a knife because someone would stop me. The same went for pills. I was stymied. I didn’t care one ounce about the people around me, who it would hurt, what kind of a terrible wake it would leave behind me. None of that mattered. All that I could focus on was how good it would feel to be dead.
In the meantime, my psychiatrist had given me his emergency telephone number during my first visit with him a month before, with strict instructions to use it to contact him during a crisis. Interestingly enough, I didn’t want to bother him with my crisis. Despite my family begging me to call him, I repeatedly refused to call him to tell him about what was going on. As I lay there suffering, my family swarmed around me, not knowing what to do. They were helpless. They were scared. They wanted to make the emotional pain go away, but they didn’t know how.
Finally, I was persuaded by my husband and sister that this was precisely the condition my doctor meant when he gave me his emergency number. So, after much cajoling, I made that call to my doctor. But he didn’t answer the phone immediately. So I left him a message, and then I got up from the couch that I had been sitting on and walked around the room. I felt a little better after having made the call, but I still felt like committing suicide.
Besides imparting the urge to commit suicide, one of the other side effects of Haldol was that it increased my anxiety level. Not able to just sit around and wait for his call, I decided to take a walk. I thought the activity would be good for me. My family didn’t know whether to leave me alone while I went on the walk, fearful that I might find a way to commit suicide while I was out. In the end, they decided to let me go for the walk unaccompanied. In hindsight, I realize that their decision could have been a huge mistake had I realized that all I had to do to die was to step in front of a moving car.
In the meantime, while I was on my walk, my doctor called. As I wasn’t there to take the call, he talked with my husband instead. He probably did a better job of explaining what was going on, being more objective that I could have been. When I returned from my walk, my husband told me the doctor said to stop the Haldol immediately. As I discontinued the Haldol, it left my system over a period of days. As it left my system, my suicide desire gradually left. But my family couldn’t be sure exactly when I was out of danger, so they continued to swarm around me, trying to assess when the danger was gone. Finally they satisfied themselves that I was out of danger and life returned to normal.
Having lived through this episode of wanting desperately to commit suicide due to a reaction to a medication, I am convinced that most, if not all, suicides are caused by brain function impairment of some sort. The brain chemistry of the suicide victim gets messed up, just like mine did. But the difference is that they aren’t put on “suicide watch” and aren’t under the care of an experienced psychiatrist. Those two things are what saved my life.