Bipolar Disorder is associated with a higher frequency of attempted suicide than most other psychiatric disorders. The reasons are unknown. This study compared bipolar subjects with a history of a suicide attempt to those without such a history, assessing suicidal behavior qualitatively and quantitatively, and examining possible demographic, psychopathologic and familial risk factors.

Methods: Patients (ages 18 to 75) with a DSM III-R Bipolar Disorder (n=44) diagnosis determined by a structured interview for Axis I disorders were enrolled. Acute psychopathology, hopelessness, protective factors, and traits of aggression and impulsivity were measured. The number, method and degree of medical damage was assessed for suicide attempts, life-time. Results: Bipolar suicide attempters had more life-time episodes of major depression, and twice as many were in a current depressive or mixed episode, compared to bipolar nonattempters. Attempters reported more suicidal ideation immediately prior to admission, and fewer reasons for living even when the most recent suicide attempt preceded the index hospitalization by more than six months. Attempters had more lifetime aggression and were more likely to be male. However, attempters did not differ from nonattempters on lifetime impulsivity.

Limitations: The generalizability of the results is limited because this is a study of inpatients with a history of suicide attempts. Patients with Bipolar I and NOS Disorders were pooled and a larger sample is needed to look at differences. We could not assess psychopathology immediately prior to the suicide attempt because, only half of the suicide attempters had made attempts in the six months prior to admission. Patients with current comorbid substance abuse were excluded. No suicide completers were studied.

Conclusions: Bipolar subjects with a history of suicide attempt experience more episodes of depression, and react to them by having severe suicidal ideation. Their diathesis for acting on feelings of anger or suicidal ideation is suggested by a higher level of lifetime aggression and a pattern of repeated suicide attempts.

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