Risk factors are characteristics of a person or his or her environment that increase the likelihood that he or she will die by suicide (i.e., suicide risk).
Major risk factors for suicide include:
- Prior suicide attempt(s)
- Misuse and abuse of alcohol or other drugs
- Mental disorders, particularly depression and other mood disorders
- Access to lethal means
- Knowing someone who died by suicide, particularly a family member
- Social isolation
- Chronic disease and disability
- Lack of access to behavioral health care
Risk factors can vary by age group, culture, sex, and other characteristics. For example:
- Stress resulting from prejudice and discrimination (family rejection, bullying, violence) is a known risk factor for suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.
- The historical trauma suffered by American Indians and Alaska Natives (resettlement, destruction of cultures and economies) contributes to the high suicide rate in this population.
- For men in the middle years, stressors that challenge traditional male roles, such as unemployment and divorce, have been identified as important risk factors.
Major protective factors for suicide include:
- Effective behavioral health care
- Connectedness to individuals, family, community, and social institutions
- Life skills (including problem solving skills and coping skills, ability to adapt to change)
- Self-esteem and a sense of purpose or meaning in life
- Cultural, religious, or personal beliefs that discourage suicide
Precipitating factors are stressful events that can trigger a suicidal crisis in a vulnerable person. Examples include:
- End of a relationship or marriage
- Death of a loved one
- An arrest
- Serious financial problems
Warning Signs: Immediate Risk
Some behaviors may indicate that a person is at immediate risk for suicide.
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
- Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or obtaining a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
Warning Signs: Serious Risk
Other behaviors may also indicate a serious risk—especially if the behavior is new; has increased; and/or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings