What are some of the risks factors for suicide?
Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that someone will consider, attempt, or die by suicide. They can’t cause or predict a suicide attempt, but they’re important to be aware of. Any combination or individual, relational, community, and societal factors can contribute to the risk of suicidality.
Suicide does not discriminate. People of all genders, ages, and ethnicities can be at risk. Suicidal behavior is complex, and there is no single cause. Many different factors contribute to someone making a suicide attempt. But people most at risk tend to share specific characteristics.
Risk factors vary with age, gender, or ethnic group and may change over time. Some factors that increase an individual’s risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors are:
• Depression or other mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
• Substance abuse disorders
• Certain medical conditions
• Major physical illnesses, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury (TBI)
• Prolonged stress, such as harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment
• Stressful life events, like rejection, divorce, financial crisis, other life transitions or loss
• Feeling trapped or like there is no way out
• Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
• History of trauma or abuse
• Loss of relationship(s)
• Chronic pain
• Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
• Prior suicide attempt(s)
• Feeling like no one would care if they are gone or like it would be easier for everyone if they were gone
• Family history of a mental disorder or substance abuse
• Family history of suicide
• Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
• Access to lethal means in the home
• Having recently been released from prison or jail
• Lack of social support, sense of isolation
• Stigma associated with asking for help
• Loss of job or finances
• Lack of healthcare, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
• Being exposed to others’ suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities
Many people have some of these risk factors but do not attempt suicide. It is important to note that suicide is not a normal response to stress. Suicidal thoughts or actions are a sign of extreme distress, not a harmless bid for attention, and should not be ignored.
Family and friends are the first to recognize the warning signs of suicide and can be the first step toward helping an at-risk individual find treatment with someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. See the resources on National Institute of Mental Health’s Find Help for Mental Illnesses page if you’re not sure where to start.
Identifying People at Risk for Suicide by Medical Professionals
• Universal Screening: Research has shown that a three-question screening tool helps emergency room personnel identify adults at risk for suicide. Researchers found that screening all patients – regardless of the reason for their emergency room visit – doubled the number of patients identified as being at risk for suicide. The researchers estimated that suicide-risk screening tools could identify more than three million additional adults at risk for suicide each year.
• Predicting Suicide Risk Using Electronic Health Records: Researchers from NIMH partnered with the VA and others to develop computer programs that could help predict suicide risk among veterans receiving VA health care. Other healthcare systems are beginning to use data from electronic health records to help identify people with suicide risk as well.