Patients on Lithium Are Significantly Less Likely to Harm Themselves

HealthDay News — Patients with bipolar disorder taking lithium have lower rates of self-harm and unintentional injury compared to those taking other mood stabilizers, according to research published online May 11 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Joseph Hayes, MB, ChB, fellow of psychiatry at University College London, and colleagues collected medical data on 6,671 patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed only one of the following drugs: lithium, valproate, olanzapine, or quetiapine.

The investigators found that patients on lithium were less likely to harm themselves, either intentionally or by accident. Patients taking one of the alternative mood stabilizers were 40% more likely to harm themselves compared to patients on lithium. Patients on valproate or quetiapine were 32% to 34% more likely to experience unintentional injury, most likely while experiencing a manic episode. The suicide rate was lower in the lithium group, but too few suicides occurred to allow accurate risk estimates.

“This is important because people with bipolar disorder are 15 times more likely to die by suicide and 6 times more likely to die by accidental injury than the general population,” Hayes told HealthDay.


Hayes JF, Pitman A, Marston L, Walters K, Geddes JR, King M, Osborn DP. Self-harm, unintentional injury, and suicide in bipolar disorder during maintenance mood stabilizer treatment: a UK population-based electronic health records study. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016. 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.0432. [Epub ahead of print]