What leads to suicide?

There’s no single cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide. Yet it’s important to note that most people who actively manage their mental health conditions go on to engage in life.

Risk factors

Risk factors are characteristics or conditions that increase the chance that a person may try to take their life.

Health

  • Mental health conditions
    • Depression
    • Substance use problems
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Schizophrenia
    • Personality traits of aggression, mood changes and poor relationships
    • Conduct disorder
    • Anxiety disorders
  • Serious physical health conditions including pain
  • Traumatic brain injury

Environmental

  • Access to lethal means including firearms and drugs
  • Prolonged stress, such as harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment
  • Stressful life events, like rejection, divorce, financial crisis, other life transitions or loss
  • Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide

Historical

  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • Childhood abuse, neglect or trauma

Protective Factors

  • Access to mental health care, and being proactive about mental health
  • Feeling connected to family and community support
  • Problem-solving and coping skills
  • Limited access to lethal means
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that encourage connecting and help-seeking, discourage suicidal behavior, or create a strong sense of purpose or self-esteem

Warning signs

Something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors. This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss, or change. Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.

Talk

If a person talks about:

  • Killing themselves
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Having no reason to live
  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Unbearable pain

Behavior

Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression
  • Fatigue

Mood

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation/Shame
  • Agitation/Anger
  • Relief/Sudden Improvement


If you or someone you know is experiencing suicide ideation, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (24-hour support).

Check out these related articles
What Can Be Done To Help Someone Who Is Being Bullied?
What Can Be Done To Help Someone Who Is Being Bullied?

By the National Child & Maternal Health Education Program, National Institutes of Health To help someone who is being bullied, support the person and address the bullying behavior. Other ways to help—including what to do if a person is in immediate danger—are...

What To Do if Your Workplace is Anxiety-Inducing
What To Do if Your Workplace is Anxiety-Inducing

By NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)There are so many aspects a job that can cause anxiety: having tight deadlines, trying to harmonize a work/life balance, dealing with office gossip and politics, meeting your supervisor’s expectations… the list goes on....

A Leader’s Guide to Talking About Bias
A Leader’s Guide to Talking About Bias

How a binary view of racism can inhibit productive conversations about race in school settings By Harvard Graduate School of Education “Tense,”“draining,” even “hostile” were just a few of the words coauthors Sarah Fiarman and Tracey Benson heard school leaders use to...

Get holistic care that meets your needs

Our hope is to help you achieve mental wellness. Start the conversation today.

Connect With Us