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Long-term lithium treatment in the prevention of suicidal behavior in bipolar disorder patients

  • Leonardo Tondo and Ross J. Baldessarini

We reviewed available research findings, including meta-analyses on effects of lithium-treatment associated with rates of suicidal behavior in bipolar disorder or unipolar major depressive disorder patients, and for comparisons of lithium to mood-stabilizing anticonvulsants. Data from meta-analyses consistently indicate marked reductions of suicidal behavior and mortality during long-term treatment with lithium salts in bipolar disorder patients, and possibly also in unipolar, recurrent major depressive, perhaps even more effectively than with anticonvulsants proposed as mood-stabilizers. Suicidal risk is frequently associated with dysphoric-agitated symptoms, anger, aggression, and impulsivity-all of which may respond better to treatment with lithium or other mood-stabilizing medicines than to antidepressants. In these conditions, antidepressant treatment may not provide a beneficial effect on risk of suicidal thoughts and perhaps attempts, particularly in juveniles, whereas, lithium, perhaps even more than anticonvulsants, seems to be remarkably effective in the preventing suicidal behavior. The mechanism of action is not well defined and may be associated with either a prevention of mood recurrences or a more specific “antisuicidal” activity.

Declaration of Interest: Dr. Tondo has received research support from Janssen and Eli Lilly Corporations and has served as a consultant to Glaxo-SmithKline and Merck Corporations. Dr. Baldessarini has recently been a consultant or investigator-initiated research collaborator with: AstraZeneca, Auritec, Biotrofix, Janssen, JDS-Noven, Lilly, Luitpold, NeuroHealing, Novartis, Pfizer, and SK-BioPharmaceutical Corporations. Neither author is a member of pharmaceutical speakers’ bureaus, nor do they or any family member hold equity positions in biomedical or pharmaceutical corporations.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Professor L. Tondo, Centro Bini, Via Cavalcanti 28, 09128 Cagliari (Italy). Fax: +39-070-496354 E-mail:
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