Attention A T users. To access the menus on this page please perform the following steps. 1. Please switch auto forms mode to off. 2. Hit enter to expand a main menu option (Health, Benefits, etc). 3. To enter and activate the submenu links, hit the down arrow. You will now be able to tab or arrow up or down through the submenu options to access/activate the submenu links.


Quick Links
Veterans Crisis Line Badge
My healthevet badge

14: Lithium

Risk Management and Treatment » Pharmacologic and other Somatic Treatments
14: Lithium

There is insufficient evidence to recommend for or against lithium to reduce the risk of suicide or suicide attempts for patients with mood disorders.


Neither for nor against



Grades and Definitions

Strong for
or "We recommend offering this option …"
Weak for
or "We suggest offering this option …"
No recommendation
or "There is insufficient evidence …"
Weak against
or "We suggest not offering this option …"
Strong against
or "We recommend against offering this option …"

Categories and Definitions

Evidence Reviewed* Recommendation Category* Definition*
Reviewed New-added New recommendation following review of the evidence
New-replaced Recommendation from previous CPG that has been carried over to the updated CPG that has been changed following review of the evidence
Not changed Recommendation from previous CPG that has been carried forward to the updated CPG where the evidence has been reviewed but the recommendation is not changed
Amended Recommendation from the previous CPG that has been carried forward to the updated CPG where the evidence has been reviewed and a minor amendment has been made
Deleted Recommendation from the previous CPG that has been removed based on review of the evidence
Not reviewed Not changed Recommendation from previous CPG that has been carried forward to the updated CPG, but for which the evidence has not been reviewed
Amended Recommendation from the previous CPG that has been carried forward to the updated CPG where the evidence has not been reviewed and a minor amendment has been made
Deleted Recommendation from the previous CPG that has been removed because it was deemed out of scope for the updated CPG
*Adapted from the NICE guideline manual (2012): The guidelines manual. London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence;2012. and Martinez Garcia L, McFarlane E, Barnes S, Sanabria AJ, Alonso-Coello P, Alderson P. Updated recommendations: An assessment of NICE clinical guidelines. Implement Sci. 2014;9:72.

Recommendation Resources

Although older systematic reviews showed a benefit with lithium with respect to reducing suicide, more recent systematic reviews failed to find a difference between lithium compared to placebo or treatment as usual. Lithium has a narrow therapeutic window, and a variety of potential side effects which may complicate treatment adherence. Lithium can be lethal in overdose, and so it is vital that prescribers attend to that risk and limit the amount of lithium dispersed when indicated. Options to reduce risk of toxicity in overdose include dispensing smaller quantities, safe medication storage options, or even having a caregiver or family member store the medication. Lithium may be useful in managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but providers should consider the use of lithium on an individualized basis using shared decision making with careful consideration of alternative treatment options.

Training Resources

This section includes links to training resources about lithium.

Considerations informing individualized risk-benefit analysis regarding lithium for suicide prevention (Wortzel et al., 2022)
Does the patient have psychiatric conditions in addition to mood disorder, or applicable medical conditions?

Evidence suggests that Lithium's potential anti-suicide benefits may be diminished in the setting of additional mental health conditions, such as substance use disorders, personality disorders, or PTSD. Various medical conditions (e.g., kidney disease, thyroid disease, TBI) may compromise the safety, efficacy, and/or tolerability of lithium.

Is the patient at acute risk for suicide? Is there a history of suicide attempts involving overdose?

Though evidence suggests that lithium may be able to mitigate chronic risk in some cases (i.e., patients with mood disorders maintained at therapeutic levels for extended periods), it is unlikely to significantly impact acute risk, or a suicide crisis in progress. In that setting, the provision of a potential lethal means for suicide is dangerous, especially in the setting of prior suicide attempts via overdose. The weak evidence that lithium might mitigate suicide risk will seldom overcome histories of repeated suicide attempts via overdose when conducting risk-benefit analysis (i.e., justify the provision of a potentially lethal means), especially when other treatment options exist.

Does the patient have the capacity/willingness to sustain long-term treatment adherence with lithium and the associated monitoring?

Many patients struggle with sustained treatment adherence, to include those at risk for suicide. Absent the ability/willingness to sustain long-term treatment at therapeutic levels, and the required associated monitoring, lithium's potential anti-suicidal benefits are unlikely to be realized.

Has a therapeutic relationship been established, and what is the strength of the relationship?

The sustained treatment and monitoring required to realize anti-suicidal benefits from lithium seem far more feasible in the context of an established and strong therapeutic relationship. That relationship may also serve to diminish or address issues relating to the provision of a potential lethal means for suicide.

Are there other viable treatment options that are favorable in terms of efficacy, safety, and feasibility?

Lithium's anti-suicidal effects are less clear when compared to other psychotropic medications (as opposed to placebo), many of which may carry the potential for analogous benefits while being more safe, tolerable, and feasible.

Return to Resource Options


This section includes links to webinars that are recommended about lithium.

CPG Webinar Lithium for Suicide — a Therapeutic Risk Management Informed Approach Presented by Dr. Hal Wortzel
Return to Resource Options


This section includes links to recommended articles about lithium.

Cipriani, A., Hawton, K., Stockton, S., & Geddes, J. R. (2013). Lithium in the prevention of suicide in mood disorders: updated systematic review and meta-analysis.. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 346, f3646.
Huang, X., Harris, L. M., Funsch, K. M., Fox, K. R., & Ribeiro, J. D. (2022). Efficacy of psychotropic medications on suicide and self-injury: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Translational psychiatry, 12(1). 400.
Katz I.R., Rogers M.P., Lew R., et al. (2022). Lithium Treatment in the Prevention of Repeat Suicide-Related Outcomes in Veterans With Major Depression or Bipolar Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 79(1), 24-32.
Nabi, Z., Stansfeld, J., Plöderl, M., Wood, L., & Moncrieff, J. (2022). Effects of lithium on suicide and suicidal behaviour: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials. Epidemiology and psychiatric sciences, 31, e65.
Oquendo, M. A., Galfalvy, H. C., Currier, D., Grunebaum, M. F., Sher, L., Sullivan, G. M., Burke, A. K., Harkavy-Friedman, J., Sublette, M. E., Parsey, R. V., & Mann, J. J. (2011). Treatment of suicide attempters with bipolar disorder: a randomized clinical trial comparing lithium and valproate in the prevention of suicidal behavior. The American journal of psychiatry, 168(10), 1050-1056.
Wortzel, H. S., Simonetti, J. A., Oslin, D. W., Hermes, E., & Matarazzo, B. B. (2023). Lithium Use for Suicide Prevention, Revisited. Journal of psychiatric practice, 29(1), 51-57.