Impulsivity, aggression and suicidal behavior in unipolar and bipolar disorders

J Affect Disord. 2011 Nov;134(1-3):112-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2011.05.048. Epub 2011 Jul 1.


Background: Predictors of suicidal behaviors (SB) in bipolar (BD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) patients are poorly understood. It has been recognized that behavioral dysregulation characterizes SB with traits of impulsivity and aggression being particularly salient. However, little is known about how these traits are segregated among mood disorder patients with and without a history of suicide attempt (SA).

Methods: This article aims to compare impulsivity and aggression between 143 controls, 138 BD and 186 MDD subjects with or without a history of SA.

Results: BD and MDD patients showed higher impulsivity scores (BIS-10 = 57.9 vs. 44.7, p < 0.0001) and more severe lifetime aggression than controls (Lifetime History of Aggression = 7.3 vs. 3.9, p < 0.0001). Whereas impulsivity helped to distinguish MDD subjects without a history of SA from those with such a history, this was not the case in BD subjects where no difference in impulsive traits was observed between BD without and with history of SA (57.2 vs. 63.2 for BIS-10; p = 0.259). Impulsive and aggressive traits were strongly correlated in suicide attempters (independently of the diagnosis) but not in non-suicide attempters.

Limitations: Dimensional traits were not characterized at different stages of illness.

Conclusions: Impulsivity, as a single trait, may be a reliable suicide risk marker in MDD but not in BD patients, and its strong correlation with aggressive traits seems specifically related to SB. Our study therefore suggests that the specific dimension of impulsive aggression should be systematically assessed in mood disorder patients to address properly their suicidal risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression*
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis
  • Bipolar Disorder / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mood Disorders
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Suicide
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology*
  • Young Adult