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Suicide Attempts and Ideation in Patients With Bipolar I Disorder

J Clin Psychiatry 2004;65:509-514

Background: Suicidal thinking and behavior are common in individuals with bipolar disorder.

Method: Suicidal ideation and suicide attempts were examined in 175 patients with bipolar I disorder (diagnosis confirmed with the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia or the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV) participating in the Pittsburgh Study of Maintenance Therapies in Bipolar Disorder. Patients who attempted suicide before entering the study were compared with those who did not attempt suicide with respect to clinical and demographic characteristics.

Results: Twenty-nine percent of the patients had attempted suicide prior to entering the study. Suicide attempts happened at a relatively young age and in the first period of the illness. Greater severity of bipolar disorder, as indicated by a greater number of previous depressive episodes (p = .0009) and higher HAM-D-25 scores (p = .04), and higher body mass index (p = .03) were significantly correlated with a history of suicide attempts. None of the patients with a history of suicide attempt attempted suicide again. However, 5 patients without a history of suicide attempt did attempt suicide. Four of these patients did not display severe suicidal ideation at the assessment that preceded the suicide attempt. No subject completed suicide during the 11 years of the study.

Conclusion: Greater severity of bipolar disorder and higher body mass index are significantly correlated with a history of suicide attempts. However, a treatment program in a maximally supportive clinical environment can reduce suicidal behavior in high-risk patients. In some cases, suicide risk is transient and may be preceded by a period of severe suicidal ideation that lasts only a few minutes or hours. In such cases, mental health professionals are unable to predict suicide attempts.