Suicidal Behavior On and Off Lithium Prophylaxis in a Group of Patients With Prior Suicide Attempts

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One hundred patients who had attempted suicide before commencing lithium prophylaxis were followed up.Outcome was analyzed in terms of attempted or completed suicide after a mean of 10 years since admission to the lithium clinics. Of 10 patients who committed suicide, 9 had discontinued adequate lithium prophylaxis for a period ranging from 2 weeks to 7 years before death. Having discontinued lithium therapy was associated with suicide also in the subgroup of patients for whom lithium had not completely prevented episodes during lithium treatment. Suicide risk was 24 times as high during periods off compared with periods on adequate lithium prophylaxis. Incidence of attempting suicide was similar during the periods before receiving or after discontinuing lithium treatment, whereas it was 5 to 6 times lower during prophylaxis. Continuous and adequate lithium prophylaxis should be considered in the presence of high suicide risk, even if the prophylactic effect on the underlying mood disorder may be incomplete. (J Clin Psychopharmacol 1998;18:384-389)

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