November 15, 2007

An Increased Risk for Suicide: Bipolar Disorder and a Family History of Suicide

A new study out of the UK shows that people who suffer from bipolar disorder and who also have a family history of suicide, may be at a higher risk for committing suicide themselves. Specifically, bipolar patients with a family history of suicide are three times more likely to attempt suicide than is the rest of the population.

Yet this increased risk of suicide isn't concentrated around just bipolar patients. As Dr. Eduard Vieta, one of the study's authors states, a family history of suicide also increases the risk of suicide for people who suffer from other mental illnesses. He's careful to point out though, that this genetic risk for suicide doesn't make the act inevitable. Rather, knowledge of your family history should lead to engaging in preventative behavior and education about suicide.

Prior to this study, two other studies also found an increased risk of suicide in bipolar sufferers with a family history of suicide. However, the data collected for these studies were from hospital records. To ensure more reliability, Dr. Vieta and his colleagues performed their study by "evaluat(ing) 374 men and women, ranging in age from 19 to 88 years, who met standard criteria for a diagnosis of bipolar illness. Forty-eight of these patients had a family member who had committed suicide." They found that "(p)eople with a family history of suicide were more likely to have anxiety-related personality traits than those who did not. More than 52 percent of the family-history patients reported a suicide attempt compared with 26 percent of patients with no family history of suicide."

The researchers stress that the main thing to take away from these findings is the importance of preventative efforts, i.e., they think the focus should be on first identifying patients who suffer from mental illness and who have an increased risk for suicide and then to educate these patients on the prevention of suicide. Dr. Vieta provides the following analogy to better understand suicide in the context of mental illness: "Suicide should be thought of as a complication of mental illness, just as death from a heart attack is seen as a risk for people with cardiovascular disease..."

Dr. Vieta also emphasizes the importance of choice and prevention, highlighted in the following quote:

There is a lot of room for prevention if clinicians are aware and people are aware that some people are at higher risk of suicide than others," Vieta said. Even though genes may largely be responsible for the inheritability of suicidal tendencies, he added, "we still have some free will. Genetics doesn't mean that you are impelled to do what your genes tell you to do.

Full Story: Some bipolar patients have higher suicide risk (Reuters)

Abstract: Relevance of Family History of Suicide in the Long-Term Outcome of Bipolar Disorders
(Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2007)

Some Past Stories on Suicide:
1. New National Suicide Prevention Hotline
2. Suicide Among Youth - Treatment Responses
3. Environmental Stressors Increase Suicide Risk


Post a comment

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

Remember Me?