Rapid mood switching and suicidality in familial bipolar disorder

Dean F. MacKinnon, James B. Potash, Francis J. McMahon, Sylvia G. Simpson, J. Raymund DePaulo, John Nurnberger, Melvin McInnis, Dennis L. Murphy, William Scheftner, William Coryell, Wade Berrettini, William Byerley, John Kelsoe, Eliot Gershon, Theodore Reich, John Rice, Peter P. Zandi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Objectives: Rapidly alternating or mixed mood states in bipolar disorder are associated with a particularly high risk for suicidal behavior. Are individuals with these patterns of illness more likely to develop suicidal intentions, or are they less able to resist them? This analysis examines the specific contribution of rapid switching and other variables to the relative likelihood of having or acting on self-reported suicidal thought and action, in a large group of individuals with bipolar disorder. Methods: The analysis included 1574 family members with bipolar disorder interviewed for a multi-site bipolar disorder genetic linkage study. Two models were tested, using the same set of demographic and clinical data points as independent variables. One model tested the influence of rapid switching and other variables on self-reported suicidal thought or action (i.e., suicidality), while the other tested the influences on suicidal action only among those who reported a history of suicidality. Results: Over 75% of subjects had contemplated suicide and 38% reported a history of suicidal behavior. A history of rapid switching was associated with higher likelihood of a history of suicidality, as was panic disorder. Familial suicidal behavior, as well as drug abuse, increased the likelihood of suicidal action among suicidal individuals, but did not increase the likelihood of becoming suicidal. Female sex, early age at onset, and several demographic factors were associated with both facets of suicidality. Conclusions: Factors associated with high acuity of distress, such as panic attacks and unstable moods, appear to enhance the risk of suicidality in general. Factors that affected the threshold for action without increasing suicidality overall can also be seen as markers of impulsive decision-making. Of the two distinct kinds of suicidal risk, the latter - the likelihood of action given intent - appears to be the more familial.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-448
Number of pages8
JournalBipolar Disorders
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2005


  • Bipolar disorder
  • Family study
  • Impulsivity
  • Panic disorder
  • Rapid cycling
  • Suicide


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