Risk Factors

Risk factors are stressful events, situations or conditions that may increase the likelihood of suicide. Risk factors neither predict nor cause suicide, however, they can affect a person’s ability to cope or to see alternative solutions to their problems. How might the following situations affect a person’s ability to cope?

Risk Factors for Suicide:

  • Mental disorders (mood, anxiety, posttraumatic stress and certain personality disorders)
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • One or more prior suicide attempts
  • Easy access to a firearm, pills, other lethal means
  • The suicide of a peer or a suicide cluster in the community
  • Family history of suicide
  • Loss of a loved one or the end of a significant relationship
  • History of trauma or abuse

Additional Risk Factors

  • Rejection by peers
  • Bullying or being bullied at school
  • Violence at home or school
  • Verbal, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Divorce of parents
  • Harsh or inconsistent discipline styles
  • Lack of support services or access to health care
  • Stigma associated with help-seeking behavior
  • Certain cultural or religious beliefs (for example, a belief that suicide is a noble solution)
  • A serious physical illness
  • Lack of life skills (decision-making, problem-solving, conflict or anger management, etc.)
  • Academic failure
  • Unrealistic expectations of oneself or the inability to accept failure
  • Poor impulse control
  • Harassment due to race, ethnicity or sexual orientation
  • Moving to a new community
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Incarceration
  • Natural disaster

Can you think of other risk factors for people your age?

Risk factors do not predict a problem because each person also has protective factors that contribute to his or her resilience. Risk factors can present an opportunity to help your friend (or yourself) develop assets. When you see too many risk factors piling up plus a change in your friend’s behavior, it’s time to be on the alert for any warning signs.

Check in with your friends. And while you’re at it, check in with yourself.