Young people with bipolar disorder are known to be at high risk for suicide attempts. Now a new study identifies factors that can signal that risk early on. Researchers from the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh tracked 413 youths (average age, 12.6) with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Over five years, 76 (18 percent) made at least one suicide attempt.

The strongest indicators of a later suicide attempt were severity of depression at intake and a family history of depression, said Tina Goldstein, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry, in the Archives of General Psychiatry online November 6. After intake, more time with threshold depression, the presence of substance use disorder or mixed mood symptoms, and more time receiving outpatient psychosocial services, all indicated greater risk as well.

“In conclusion, these prospective data indicate pediatric bipolar disorder is associated with high rates of suicide attempts,” concluded Goldstein and colleagues. “These findings highlight the importance of suicide-prevention strategies in youth with bipolar disorder, including frequent and thorough suicide risk assessment and safety planning.”

For more in Psychiatric News about suicide risk in youth with bipolar disorder, click here. For a comprehensive review of bipolar illness in general, see American Psychiatric Publishing's Handbook of Diagnosis and Treatment of Bipolar Disorders.