Ricki Lake's Ex-Husband Among 20% of Bipolar Suicides

Research suggests that 20–60% of those with bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at least once during their lifetime.

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In the March 1, 2017 issue of PEOPLE magazine, Ricki Lake revealed that her ex-husband, 45-year-old jewelry designer Christian Evans, took his own life the previous month after a long battle with bipolar disorder.

"I have to spread the word about recognizing this disorder and getting treatment as soon as possible," the actress and former talk show host told PEOPLE.

Bipolar disorder is a brain condition marked by severe swings in mood and affects 2.6% of American adults (approximately 6.7 million people). People with bipolar disorder experience high-energy, elevated moods during manic episodes and sad, hopeless moods during depressive ones. Making the condition more complex, people with bipolar disorder are also more likely to have psychotic symptoms (like hearing voices or having delusions, which increases their chances of being misdiagnosed with schizophrenia), anxiety, and problems with substance abuse.

Evans disclosed his bipolar diagnosis to Lake when they first started dating, and the couple wed in 2012. It wasn't until 2014 that Lake experienced one of her husband's manic episodes (some people go years between episodes). At first, he simply seemed extra happy and motivated, but later "he thought he could fly. He thought he could cure cancer with his hands," she told PEOPLE. Under the advice of a therapist, she cut off contact with Evans and filed for divorce. Evans was eventually hospitalized, and reunited with Lake when his mental health stabilized. Unfortunately, it didn't last long; in the fall of 2016, Evans slipped into another manic episode and the couple split for good. Then, on February 11, 2017, Lake received a text from Evans's sister saying she'd received a suicide note via email. Two days later he was found in his car with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Sadly, Lake's story may sound all too familiar to those who have a loved one with bipolar disorder. The condition is notoriously difficult to treat. About half of people with bipolar disorder will attempt to take their life at least once during their lifetime, and as many as one in five dies by suicide.

The combination of extreme highs and extreme lows may be one of the things that puts people with bipolar disorder at such high risk for suicide. A 2018 study published in the journal Bipolar Disorders found that the prevalence of "mixed states"—when highs and lows take place at the same time—occurred in 38% of people with bipolar disorder. Study authors found that those who experience mixed states spend more time depressed when compared to those with bipolar disorder who don't experience mixed states. "You have a depressed mood but tons of energy to do something about it. That can be incredibly dangerous in terms of suicide risk," explained Glenn Konopaske, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at UConn Health.

Other research suggests brain differences put some bipolar patients at higher risk for suicide than others. A July 2017 study from Yale University compared brain scans of teens and young adults with bipolar disorder and found that those who'd attempted suicide had slightly less volume and activity in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that regulates emotions and impulses. "That can lead to more extreme emotional pain, difficulties in generating alternate solutions to suicide and greater likelihood of acting on suicidal impulses," said senior study author Hilary Blumberg, MD, in a press release.

The good news is that bipolar "is highly treatable, and if patients are on the appropriate treatment, they can lead very functioning lives," said Dr. Konopaske. Doctors typically prescribe lithium, a mood stabilizer. "It definitely helps reduce the risk of suicide," said Dr. Konopaske. Research indicates lithium is the gold standard for the treatment of bipolar disorder, outperforming newer mood stabilizers on the market.

Patients who do the best are in regular therapy, take their medications religiously, and have supportive and involved family members. "It takes a team approach for success," said Dr. Konopaske and added that not all patients will respond to treatment, and there can be a lot of trial and error trying to find the best treatment for individuals. This team approach includes educating family members on bipolar disorder so they can help their loved one with the disorder better adhere to their treatment plan.

As for Lake, she told PEOPLE she planned to honor Evans's life by raising awareness about mental illness. "Christian didn't want to be labeled as bipolar, but he admitted he was in the note he left," said Lake. "That was him finally owning it. That was him giving me permission to tell his story."

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