Lithium is the best treatment for people with bipolar disorder in terms of a lower risk of suicide.

A study by Cecilie Fitzgerald and colleagues from DRISP in collaboration with international experts documents that lithium is the best treatment for people with bipolar disorder when it comes to preventing suicidal behavior. Although newer commercial drugs have been developed and marketed, lithium remains superior for this patient group. This is important evidence because people with bipolar disorder have an 18-fold higher risk of suicide when compared to other people in the general population.

The study was published in the renowned scientific journal, British Journal of Psychiatry. It  used complete and nationwide data on all people diagnosed with bipolar disorder in Denmark during 1995-2016 and investigated which type of treatment were most effective at preventing suicidal behavior and psychiatric readmission. The findings revealed that people who were in ongoing treatment with lithium had a 26% lower suicide rate when compared to periods of not being in treatment. People treated with lithium had a 33% lower risk of suicide when compared to people treated with valproate.

In total, 33,337 people with bipolar disorder were included in the analyses, and a 60% lower suicide rate was found among those treated with lithium compared to periods without treatment. In addition, the study found fewer psychiatric readmissions among people treated with lithium compared to people who were not in treatment.

The study can be found here:

DRISP: Cecilie Aalling, Merete Nordentoft, Annette Erlangsen


  • Prof Keith Hawton, Centre for Suicide Research, University of Oxford
  • Michael Eriksen Benros, Psykiatrisk Center København