Suicides and parasuicides in a high-risk group on and off lithium long-term medication
68 patients with affective disorders, and receiving lithium prophylaxis in a specialized lithium clinic were followed up for 8 years on average. Patients were selected for this study according to 2 criteria: They had been given lithium for at least 12 months, and they had attempted suicide at least once before onset of lithium prophylaxis. Outcome was analysed in terms of suicidal and parasuicidal behaviour. 55 patients took their lithium regularly, 13 discontinued or dropped the medication. One third of those patients having discontinued the medication died from suicide. Only one suicide occurred in patients with regular lithium intake and proven compliance during the last check before death. An impressive drop of parasuicides was observed in responders as well as in apparent non-responders. In total, 11 of 13 patients showed suicidal or parasuicidal behaviour 2 weeks-44 months after lithium discontinuation, which in about half of these cases took place on advice or with consent of the treating psychiatrist. It is concluded that lithium may have specific anti-suicidal properties, possibly related to its anti-aggressive effect, and that patients apparently not responding satisfactorily in terms of reduced number of episodes may still be protected against suicide or parasuicide.
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