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Risk Factors for Suicide and Prevention

What are Risk Factors?

Risk factors are influences that make it more likely that individuals will develop a mental health problem. They include biological, psychological, or social factors in the individual, family, or community. The more risk factors a person has, the more he/she is at risk for suicide and other self-destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse.

Individual Risk Factors

  • Mental health problems, including depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders
  • Alcohol and other substance use problems
  • Loss (due to death, relationship, job, or status)
  • Poor impulse control
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness, or desperation
  • History of trauma or abuse (e.g. physical, mental, or sexual)
  • Prior suicide attempt (significantly increases risk)
  • Fascination with death and violence
  • History of bullying or interpersonal violence
  • Confusion or conflict about sexual orientation/identity
  • Compulsive, extreme perfectionism

Family Risk Factors

  • Family history of suicide
  • Depressed and/or suicidal parents
  • Alcoholic and/or drug-addicted parents
  • Changes in family structure (e.g. death, divorce, remarriage, frequent moves/relocation)
  • Financial difficulties

Community Risk Factors

  • Access to lethal means, e.g. firearms or other lethal means
  • Stigma associated with help-seeking
  • Lack of access to helping services
  • Loss of family, friends, or idols to suicide
  • Anniversary of someone else’s suicide or other death
  • Incarceration or loss of freedom; trouble with the law

This list of risk factors was developed by the National Center for Suicide Prevention Training.