Suicide Risk Factors and Signs
Every suicide is a tragedy, and to some degree a mystery.
Suicide often stems from a deep feeling of hopelessness. The inability to see solutions to problems or to cope with challenging life circumstances may lead people to see taking their own lives as the only solution to what is really a temporary situation, and most survivors of suicide attempts go on to live full, rewarding lives.
Depression is a key risk factor for suicide; others include psychiatric disorders, substance use, chronic pain, a family history of suicide, and a prior suicide attempt. Impulsiveness often plays a role among adolescents who take their life.
If a person deemed at risk due to any of the above exhibits sudden mood changes—even a suddenly upbeat mood—or completely new behaviors, they may be actively suicidal. Those who speak about being a burden to others, having no reason to live, feeling trapped, or in unbearable pain may also be contemplating suicide.
Statistically, suicide occurs most frequently among people ages 45 to 54. Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide; men are more likely than women to complete the act.
For immediate help, 24/7: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK, or Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. To find a therapist near you, see the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
How to Talk to Someone Who Is Suicidal
There are many myths about suicide. One is the mistaken belief that talking about it to a person in danger encourages the act. If a loved one expresses thoughts or plans of suicide, it’s essential to initiate a conversation. It is wise to approach the discussion by identifying concrete resources such as a therapist or suicide prevention hotline, and to conclude the conversation with a stated commitment to follow up with the person over time.
Be direct with the person by asking the following questions:
- How are you coping with your challenges?
- Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
- Are you thinking about dying?
- Are you thinking about suicide?
- Have you come up with a plan for taking your own life?
What Is Suicide Contagion?
Suicide contagion is an increase in suicide attempts and completed suicides following exposure to a suicide in the media or one’s personal circle. The suicide of a prominent celebrity or a member of a specific community, such as the military or an elementary school, have been shown to correlate with a rise in suicides. Although many studies have reported this correlation, they cannot conclude that exposure caused the elevated rates.
Those who are especially susceptible to suicide contagion, also referred to as copycat suicide, include adolescents, people who already struggle with suicidal thoughts, and people with mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The phenomenon may occur, in part, due to the tendency to learn from important or relevant figures and because the idea may become more prominent in one’s mind.
Suicide contagion can be curbed. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention issued media guidelines that many publications have adopted, such as not detailing the method used in suicides, not suggesting that a death was due to a simple reason or an achieved a goal such as fame or revenge, and perhaps most important, listing resources to help those who may be struggling.