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What are the Risk Factors for Suicide?

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  • Written By: M. Walker
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2016
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The risk factors for suicide can be split into three major categories: biopsychosocial, environmental, and social and cultural factors. General risk factors for suicide differ from immediate signs of a suicide crisis, which include intense depression, a precipitating event, or behavioral changes such as saying goodbye to friends and family members or wrapping up other life affairs. Anyone exhibiting these crisis signs should receive help either through a suicide hotline or through medical care.

Biological and psychosocial risk factors for suicide are some of the most important and influential risk factors. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 90% of those who commit suicide suffer from psychiatric disorders such as major depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. Additionally, between 20% and 50% of suicide victims have made previous suicide attempts.

Beyond the major risks of mental illness and previous suicide attempts, having a family history of suicide and lower serotonin levels are other risk factors for suicide. Impulsive behavior could also contribute to an increased risk of suicide because impulsive individuals are much more likely to act on a suicidal ideation. Demographically, rates of suicide are highest for older Caucasian men compared to other groups. Men are generally more likely to commit suicide than women by a factor of three to five, which some claim to be associated with increased impulsive behavior in men.

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There are also several environmental risk factors for suicide that depend on an individual’s situation. These could include the death of a loved one, job or investment loss, or even a local suicide trend that could influence a person who is already exhibiting other risk factors for suicide. While environmental risks are much more variable in nature than biopsychosocial risks, these factors can sometimes prove to be more extreme, as they can lead to a suicide crisis situation due to their sudden onset.

Risk factors for suicide also encompass certain social and cultural traditions, especially for regions that do not have adequate mental health screening and care. Cultures that discourage seeking help, are shame-based, or glorify suicide as a means of escaping potential shame generally increase the risk of suicide. Additionally, substance abuse can greatly increase a person’s risk, especially if he or she is in an intoxicated state after a precipitating event has occurred. At a more general social level, individuals who lack a strong support network or feel lonely or isolated are at an increased risk for depression and suicide.

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