Context: Individuals with early onset of bipolar disorder are at high risk for suicide. Yet, no study to date has examined factors associated with prospective risk for suicide attempts among youth with bipolar disorder.
Objective: To examine past, intake, and follow-up predictors of prospectively observed suicide attempts among youth with bipolar disorder.
Design: We interviewed subjects, on average, every 9 months over a mean of 5 years using the Longitudinal Interval Follow-up Evaluation.
Setting: Outpatient and inpatient units at 3 university centers.
Participants: A total of 413 youths (mean [SD] age, 12.6 [3.3] years) who received a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder (n = 244), bipolar II disorder (n = 28), or bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (n = 141).
Main Outcome Measures: Suicide attempt over prospective follow-up and past, intake, and follow-up predictors of suicide attempts.
Results: Of the 413 youths with bipolar disorder, 76 (18%) made at least 1 suicide attempt within 5 years of study intake; of these, 31 (8% of the entire sample and 41% of attempters) made multiple attempts. Girls had higher rates of attempts than did boys, but rates were similar for bipolar subtypes. The most potent past and intake predictors of prospectively examined suicide attempts included severity of depressive episode at study intake and family history of depression. Follow-up data were aggregated over 8-week intervals; greater number of weeks spent with threshold depression, substance use disorder, and mixed mood symptoms and greater number of weeks spent receiving outpatient psychosocial services in the preceding 8-week period predicted greater likelihood of a suicide attempt.
Conclusions: Early-onset bipolar disorder is associated with high rates of suicide attempts. Factors such as intake depressive severity and family history of depression should be considered in the assessment of suicide risk among youth with bipolar disorder. Persistent depression, mixed presentations, and active substance use disorder signal imminent risk for suicidal behavior in this population.