Risk factors for suicide are characteristics or conditions that increase the chance that a person may try to take her or his life. Suicide risk tends to be highest when someone has several risk factors at the same time.
The most frequently cited risk factors for suicide are:
It is important to bear in mind that the large majority of people with mental disorders or other suicide risk factors do not engage in suicidal behavior.
Some people who have one or more of the major risk factors above can become suicidal in the face of factors in their environment, such as:
Again, though, it is important to remember that these factors do not usually increase suicide risk for people who are not already vulnerable because of a preexisting mental disorder or other major risk factors. Exposure to extreme or prolonged environmental stress, however, can lead to depression, anxiety, and other disorders that in turn, can increase risk for suicide.
In contrast to longer term risk and protective factors, warning signs are indicators of more acute suicide risk.
Thinking about heart disease helps to make this clear. Risk factors for heart disease include smoking, obesity, and high cholesterol. Having these factors does not mean that someone is having a heart attack right now, but rather that there is an increased chance that they will have heart attack at some time. Warning signs of a heart attack are chest pain, shortness of breath, and nausea. These signs mean that the person may be having a heart attack right now and needs immediate help.
As with heart attacks, people who die by suicide usually show some indication of immediate risk before their deaths. Recognizing the warning signs for suicide can help us to intervene to save a life.
A person who is thinking about suicide may say so directly: “I’m going to kill myself.” More commonly, they may say something more indirect: “I just want the pain to end,” or “I can’t see any way out.”
Most of the time, people who kill themselves show one or more of these warning signs before they take action:
Individuals who show such behaviors should be evaluated for possible suicide risk by a medical doctor or mental health professional.
Take it Seriously
Encourage Professional Help
Follow-Up on Treatment
Reference American Foundation for Suicide Prevention www.afsp.org