Characteristics of first suicide attempts in single versus multiple suicide attempters with bipolar disorder

Benjamin H Michaelis, Joseph F Goldberg, Tara M Singer, Jessica L Garno, Carrie L Ernst, Glen P Davis
Comprehensive Psychiatry 2003, 44 (1): 15-20
Although suicidality remains highly prevalent among patients with bipolar disorder, little research exists examining the characteristics of successive attempts among individuals who make and survive a first suicide attempt. We compared bipolar subjects with a history of one suicide attempt to those with multiple attempts and assessed demographic characteristics, family histories, psychopathology, and clinical dimensions of suicidal behavior. Fifty-two DSM-IV bipolar patients (age 21 to 74 years) with a history of at least one suicide attempt were consecutively evaluated in the Bipolar Disorders Research Clinic of the New York Presbyterian Hospital. Circumstances surrounding each lifetime suicide attempt were assessed by direct interviews, questionnaires, and chart reviews along with family psychiatric histories, substance abuse histories, current psychopathology, and features of impulsivity and aggression. Multiple suicide attempts occurred in approximately two thirds of the study group. Single attempters were significantly more likely than multiple attempters to show high seriousness of intent at their first attempt (OR = 0.65, 95% CI = 0.43 to 0.99), and tended to be less likely than multiple attempters to exhibit mixed states at their first attempt (OR = 0.54, 95% CI = 0.28 to 1.01). Seriousness of intent was consistent across the first and second attempts (r =.48, P <.01) and second and third attempts (r =.74, P <.05). Single and multiple attempters differed in no other clinical or demographic characteristics studied. We conclude that multiple suicide attempts are common among bipolar patients. Those who survive an initial suicide attempt involving high seriousness of intent appear less likely than those with low intent to make subsequent attempts. Consequently, single attempters may represent a group more closely resembling those who complete suicide on a first attempt, in terms of the risk for death associated with their first attempt. However, multiple suicide attempts among bipolar patients are not necessarily associated with a higher risk for lethality in first suicide attempt survivors.

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