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Suicide Risk Factors

One of the potential symptoms of depression is suicidal thoughts. It is not surprising that someone who is experiencing intense feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and hopelessness would begin to believe that life is simply no longer worth living.

However, not everyone who struggles with depression considers suicide, not to mention attempts to take his or her life. Studies have shown that some people have a much higher risk for suicide than others. Understanding those risk factors is especially important if you or someone you love is battling depression – or a substance abuse problem or other mental health condition – two other factors that are also associated with a high suicide risk.

In fact, a combination of depression or another mental health issue and a substance abuse disorder makes a person particularly vulnerable. Add a major life stressor or trauma to the mix and the risk increases even more.

Following are additional risk factors for suicide:

  • History of suicide attempts (this is one of the greatest predictors of future suicide attempts)
  • Poor impulse control
  • Tendencies towards aggressive or hostile behaviors
  • History of a close relative committing suicide
  • History of childhood abuse, neglect, or other trauma
  • History of any psychiatric disorder
  • The belief that suicide is a noble or admirable act (usually related to religious or cultural background)
  • One or more recent significant losses (e.g. death of a loved one, divorce, financial loss, job loss)
  • History of exposure to domestic violence
  • Incarceration
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Easy access to firearms or other lethal means
  • Feeling socially isolated
  • Serious or chronic physical health condition / chronic pain
  • High rate of suicides in the community
  • Difficulties accessing treatment for mental health problems

There are things, however, that can significantly reduce the risk of suicide in vulnerable individuals. These include [1]:

  • Support and encouragement from family, friends, and the community
  • Easy access to relevant medical and mental health services, as well as substance abuse treatment if needed
  • Appropriate and effective treatment for psychiatric, substance abuse, and medical issues
  • Ongoing support from healthcare providers
  • The tools and skills to manage stress, resolve interpersonal conflicts, and find solutions to problems in healthy ways
  • Encouragement and support for seeking help
  • A belief system that encourages staying alive and does not support suicidal behavior

Suicide doesn’t have to be an option. By increasing the factors that help prevent suicidal behavior, the risk can be significantly decreased – even in those who have the highest risk.


[1] From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/riskprotectivefactors.html