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Suicide risk factors

Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely someone experiences suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

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Risk factors are events or circumstances that heighten the risk for suicidal thoughts or actions.

Family, friends, workplaces, and communities should work to mitigate the suicide risk factors they can help with as much as possible.

Suicide risk factors are not issues or experiences that cause suicidal thoughts in every person. Risk factors are important to consider when evaluating if someone you know could be at risk for suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention puts risk factors into three main categories: health, environmental and historical.

Health risk factors

Risk factors related to health can be conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse, as well as being bipolar or schizophrenic. Also included in the health factor category are mood swings, serious physical health problems and traumatic brain injuries.

Depression is commonly associated with suicide, and because it is often undiagnosed or untreated the people and those around don’t recognize depression as an issue until it has become self-destructive.

Environmental risk factors

Environmental factors include prolonged stress stemming from bullying, harassment, bad relationships unemployment, divorce, loss of loved ones, or other life-transition events. Easy access to firearms, drugs or other items that could be used to carry out a suicide are also considered environmental suicide risk factors, as is exposure to another person’s suicide.

Historical risk factors

Historical suicide risk factors identified by advocates and health professionals are childhood neglect, childhood trauma, previous suicide attempts, or a family history of suicide.

A related, more positive term called protective factors is not as well-publicized as much as risk factors but should be known to advocates and the public. Having such resources available can help mitigate a potential suicidal environment.

Protective factors

  • Effective clinical care for mental, physical and substance abuse disorders
  • Access to a variety of clinical interventions and support for those seeking help
  • Family and community support, which promotes connectedness
  • Support from ongoing medical and mental health care relationships
  • Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent ways of handling disputes
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation

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