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Original Research

Clinical and Cognitive Correlates of Suicide Attempts in Bipolar Disorder: Is Suicide Predictable?

Alison M. Gilbert, PhD; Jessica L. Garno, PhD; Raphael J. Braga, MD; Yaniv Shaya, MA; Terry E. Goldberg, PhD; Anil K. Malhotra, MD; and Katherine E. Burdick, PhD

Published: July 12, 2011

Article Abstract

Objective: We conducted a retrospective investigation of potential clinical, demographic, and neuropsychological risk factors for suicide attempts in patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Method: Participants included 67 adult inpatients and outpatients aged 18-60 years meeting DSM-IV criteria for bipolar disorder (bipolar I and II disorders, bipolar disorder not otherwise specified). We assessed demographic factors, mood symptoms, psychosis, trauma history, trait impulsivity, trait aggression, and reasons for living. The primary outcome measures were the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale-version II, Aggression Questionnaire, and 10 cognitive outcome variables. The cognitive outcome variables assessed cognitive performance across several domains, including processing speed, attention, verbal learning, and executive function. Another aspect of cognitive function, decision making, was assessed using the Iowa Gambling Task. The study was conducted from July 2007-July 2009.

Results: We found that nonattempters reported significantly higher trait impulsivity scores on the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale compared to attempters (t57 = 2.2, P = .03) and that, among attempters, lower trait impulsivity score was associated with higher scores of lethality of prior attempts (r25 = -0.53, P = .01). Analyses revealed no other group differences on demographic, clinical, or neurocognitive variables when comparing attempters versus nonattempters. Regression models failed to identify any significant predictors of past suicide attempt.

Conclusions: The largely negative results of our study are particularly important in highlighting the clinical dilemma faced by many clinicians when trying to predict which patients will make serious suicide attempts and which patients are at a lower risk for acting on suicidal thoughts. A limitation of our work is that we examined stable trait measures of impulsivity among a euthymic sample rather than mood state or the impact of mood state on traits. Overall, we conclude that suicidal behavior is extremely difficult to predict, even when comprehensive clinical and neurocognitive information is available.

J Clin Psychiatry 2011;72(8):1096-1105

Submitted: July 13, 2010; accepted January 28, 2011.

Online ahead of print: July 12, 2011 (doi:10.4088/JCP.10m06410).

Corresponding author: Alison M. Gilbert, PhD, Zucker Hillside Hospital, 75-59 263rd St, Glen Oaks, NY 11004 (

Volume: 72

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