Prevention of suicidal behavior with lithium treatment in patients with recurrent mood disorders

Int J Bipolar Disord. 2024 Mar 9;12(1):6. doi: 10.1186/s40345-024-00326-x.


Suicidal behavior is more prevalent in bipolar disorders than in other psychiatric illnesses. In the last thirty years evidence has emerged to indicate that long-term treatment of bipolar disorder patients with lithium may reduce risk of suicide and attempts, with possibly similar benefits in recurrent major depressive disorder. We review and update selected research literature on effects of lithium treatment in reducing suicidal behavior and consider proposals that higher levels of lithium in drinking water may be associated with lower suicide rates. We summarize results of a growing number of randomized, controlled studies of lithium treatment for suicide prevention including comparisons with placebos or alternative treatments, and comment on the severe challenges of such trials. The basis of a proposed protective effect of lithium against suicidal behaviors remains uncertain but may include protective effects against recurrences of depressive phases of mood disorders, especially with mixed features or agitation, and possibly through beneficial effects on impulsivity, agitation and dysphoric mood.

Publication types

  • Review