New Study Finds That Undiagnosed Lyme Disease Can Lead to Suicide

A new study published in the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, found that there is a “causal association between suicidal risk and Lyme and associated diseases (LAD)”.[1] Author of the article, psychiatrist Robert Bransfield, MD writes indirect calculations show that of the more than 40,000 documented cases of suicide in the U.S. every year, over 1,200 of them are LAD-related.

Why is the risk of suicide so high for Lyme patients? For many, it comes down to misdiagnosis and misunderstanding. When Lyme and its co-infections go untreated, they can cross the blood-brain barrier, causing both neurological and psychiatric symptoms. Dr. Bransfield’s study cites explosive anger, intrusive images, sudden mood swings, paranoia, dissociative episodes, hallucinations, disinhibition, panic disorder, rapid cycling bipolar, depersonalization, social anxiety disorder, substance abuse, hyper vigilance, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, low frustration tolerance, and post traumatic stress disorder as just some of the possible psychiatric manifestations of LAD. Bransfield notes that “a higher level of risk to self and others” is associated with these various symptoms and issues, which arise after a patient is infected with LAD.1

Many of these psychiatric manifestations can also be linked to sleep deprivation, an issue that affected 100% of Lyme patients in one study.2 In his presentation “The Assessment and Treatment of Sleep Disorders Associated With Lyme/Tick Borne Diseases” at the 2016 International Lyme and Associated Disease Society (ILADS) conference, Dr. Bransfield noted that “sleep deprivation has immune effects and is a potential risk for suicidality…patients who are acutely sleep deprived can become acutely suicidal”.3 Lyme patients tend to not be able to get delta sleep, the deepest of sleep cycles, causing them to feel fatigued no matter how much they rest. This level of sleep deprivation has a negative effect on the immune system, making it harder for patients to fight Lyme. Such a vicious cycle can lend itself to anxiety, depression, self-medication, and suicidal ideation.

Founding ILADS member Dr. Bernard Raxlen is no stranger to the psychiatric dangers of undiagnosed LAD. A psychiatrist focusing on family practice in a tick-endemic area, Dr. Raxlen noticed that many of his patients with attention deficit disorder, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and sleep disorders were also suffering from overlooked physiological issues such as hypoglycemia, food allergies, hypothyroidism, and candida. The patients sometimes presented with neurological symptoms like brain fog and confusion. “I saw a lot of the psychological illness melt into a different neuro-biological paradigm,” Dr. Raxlen explains in a video presented by ILADS.4 With the help of Dr. Kenneth Liegner, another founding member of ILADS, Dr. Raxlen determined that some of his patients’ psychiatric problems were in fact manifestations of Lyme disease. Left improperly diagnosed, these patients may have become part of the terrifying statistic Dr. Bransfield warns about in his new study.

In addition to misdiagnosis, patients often find themselves misunderstood by those who are supposed to care about them most. Dr. Bransfield’s study found that “negative attitudes about LAD from family, friends, doctors, and the health care system may also contribute to suicide risk”.1

We at Marin Natural Medicine Clinic are aware of the psychiatric manifestations of LAD and of the importance of early and accurate diagnosis. If you or your child suffer from psychiatric disorder(s), contact us to see if LAD could be the root cause.


1 Bransfield RC. Suicide and Lyme and Associated Diseases. Neuropsychiatric Diseases and Treatment. 2017 Jun;Volume 2017(13):1575—1587 https://www.dovepress.com/articles.php?article_id=33331
Accessed 22 June 2017. 

2 Greenberg HE, Ney G, Scharf SM, Ravdin L, Hilton E. Sleep Quality in Lyme Disease. Sleep. 1995 Dec;18(10):912-6.

3 Bransfield RC. The Assessment and Treatment of Sleep Disorders Associated with Lyme/Tick-Borne Diseases John Drulle Memorial Lecture. 2016. Available at: http://ilads.org/ilads_media/wp-content/plugins/wp-cart-for-digital-products/mask.phpAccessed 22 June 2017. 

4 Raxlen B. ILADS Physicians Training Program.; 2013. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N56AVhIqvog&feature=youtu.be 
Accessed 22 June 2017.