Objective: Recurrent suicidal behavior is a defining characteristic of borderline personality disorder. Although most patients achieve remission of suicidal behavior over time, as many as 10% die by suicide, raising the question of whether there is a high-risk suicidal subtype. The authors conducted a longitudinal study of suicidal behavior in borderline personality disorder patients to identify prospective predictors of suicide attempts and to characterize those patients at highest risk for suicide completion.
Method: Demographic and diagnostic characteristics and clinical and psychosocial risk factors assessed at baseline were examined for predictive association with medically significant suicide attempts using Cox proportional hazards models. The authors defined prospective predictors for participants who completed 6 or more years in the study and compared the data to those of earlier intervals.
Results: Among 90 participants, 25 (27.8%) made at least one suicide attempt in the interval, and most attempts occurred in the first 2 years. The risk of suicide attempt was increased by low socioeconomic status, poor psychosocial adjustment, family history of suicide, previous psychiatric hospitalization, and absence of any outpatient treatment before the attempt. Higher global functioning scores at baseline decreased this risk.
Conclusions: Risk factors predictive of suicide attempt change over time. Acute stressors such as major depressive disorder were predictive only in the short term (12 months), while poor psychosocial functioning had persistent and long-term effects on suicide risk. Half of borderline patients have poor psychosocial outcomes despite symptomatic improvement. A social and vocational rehabilitation model of treatment is needed to decrease suicide risk and optimize long-term outcomes.