While the causes of suicide are complex, age, gender, mental illness, and even exposure to suicide through the media all increase the risk of suicidal behavior. These suicide risk factors all contribute to the likelihood that a person will attempt to end his life.
Risk Factors in Suicide
Risk factors for suicide only result in suicidal behavior in a few people. For a minority of people, however, suicide risk factors trigger life-threatening behavior. People with multiple suicide risk factors are more at risk than people with a single risk factor.
Depression and other mental disorders are the most common suicide risk factors. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that more than 90 percent of people who commit suicide suffer from a mental disorder. Mental disorders that increase the risk of suicide include:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Anxiety disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Bulimia nervosa
- Personality disorders (particularly borderline or antisocial personality disorder)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Substance abuse.
A prior suicide attempt greatly increases the risk of additional attempts. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 20 to 50 percent of people who commit suicide made previous suicide attempts.
Other risk factors in suicide include:
- Exposure to suicidal behavior
- Family history of physical or sexual abuse
- Family histories of mental disorders or suicide
- Impulsive, risk-taking behavior
- Lack of social support
- Major physical illness
- Major stress events (such as death of a loved one or job loss)
- Presence of firearms in the house
- Traumatic brain injury.
Gender, Ethnicity and Suicide Risk Factors
Men are four times more likely than women to die from suicide, according to NIMH. This may be due to the methods of suicide men and women choose. Men are more likely to use firearms, while women are more likely to use poisoning in a suicide attempt.
Members of certain ethnic groups have higher-than-average suicide rates. American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates (15.1 suicides per 100,000 people, according to NIMH), followed by non-Hispanic Whites (13.9 per 100,000).
Signs of Suicide and Suicide Risk Assessment
A person planning a suicide may or may not exhibit signs of suicide. While some people give warning they are suicidal, others hide any sign indicating that they plan to end their lives. Possible signs of suicide include:
- Changing mood
- Giving away possessions, pets
- Increasing risk-taking
- Injuring self
- Locating materials needed for suicide
- Making arrangements (sudden interest in updating will, paying off debts, etc.)
- Talking or writing about death or suicide
- Threatening to kill self
- Withdrawing from family and friends.
Suicide risk assessment is best left to professionals. If you suspect a person is suicidal, do not leave them alone or with access to firearms, medications or other methods of suicide. Either take the individual to the nearest emergency room or call 911 for assistance. Always take signs of suicide seriously.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Staff. (2010). Risk factors for suicide. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website: www.afsp.org/index.cfm?page_id=05147440-E24E-E376-BDF4BF8BA6444E76.
National Institute of Mental Health Staff. (2010). Suicide in the U.S.: Statistics and prevention. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from the National Institute of Mental Health website: www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-the-us-statistics-and-prevention/index.shtml#factors.
Suicide Prevention Resources Center. (2001). Risk and Protective factors for suicide. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from the Suicide Prevention Resources Center website: www.sprc.org/library/srisk.pdf.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Staff. (n.d.). Suicide risk assessment guide: A reference manual. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website: www.mentalhealth.va.gov/â€¦/Suicide_Risk_Assessment_Guide.doc.