Risk Factors for Suicide

Risk Factors for Suicide

As a clinician who has completed psychiatric assessments in the Emergency Department and now teaches suicide prevention, I believe knowing the warning signs of suicide can be helpful for parents in addressing the needs of their child. These warning signs can encourage us to tune-in and ask questions so that we can offer help when it is needed.

However, to gain a more complete picture, it is also important to understand their potential risk factors. 

Suicide is highly complex and cannot be attributed to a single cause. A combination of health, environmental and historical factors contribute to the risk, but are not necessarily direct causes.

The more risk factors a person has, the greater their risk may be for suicide. While suicide can affect people of all ethnicities, ages, genders and socioeconomic levels, certain characteristics are found in higher frequency among people who die from suicide. Some of those common risk factors are as follows:

Risk Factors for Suicide

Health

    • Abuse of substances
    • Chronic pain, serious or chronic medical conditions
    • Mental disorders (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders)

Environmental

    • Major stressful events (divorce, death, abuse/trauma)
    • Prolonged stress (bullying, harassment, relationship issues, job loss)
    • Exposure to another suicide
    • Access to lethal means (firearms, drugs)
    • Challenges related to sexual orientation and/or gender identity
    • Unwillingness to seek help or other barriers to care

Historical

    • Has attempted suicide before, or
    • Has a family member who has attempted or died by suicide

Teens who are contemplating suicide often fall into several categories above, or follow a similar pattern, such as: already having a mental health disorder, beginning to abuse alcohol or drugs, having access to lethal means, and/or were exposed to a stressful life event or another suicide.

It is important to note that teens are not the only group of children who are capable of suicide ideation. Young children are capable of suicidal thoughts and can act on them as well.

If you are sensing a pattern or noticing that your child falls into a few of the above categories, then ask her about it in a nonjudgmental way. 

Don’t be afraid to ask your child directly if he is having thoughts of suicide. You are not going to give her an idea that she doesn’t already have. If you need some help, please visit our website for more information about how to support your child. 

While it is difficult for parents to consider the possibility that their children are capable of attempting suicide, I can assure you that children and teens who are having thoughts of suicide often feel relieved when someone who cares about them asks them about it. Sometimes they just need someone else to open the door to that conversation.

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Stacey Hoffman, LPCC, MEd

About the Author: Stacey Hoffman, LPCC, MEd

Stacey Hoffman, LPCC, MEd is the Program Manager for Cincinnati Children’s suicide prevention program, Adapting for Life. It has grown three-fold over the past two years, now serving over sixty area schools. Prior to this role, Stacey collaborated with children and families while performing emergency psychiatric assessments in our Emergency Departments. She earned her MA in Clinical Art Therapy from Loyola Marymount University and her MEd in Clinical Counseling from Xavier University. Stacey is also an independently licensed counselor and has provided youth counseling and mental health services for several school-based and community organizations across the greater Cincinnati area.

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Comments

  1. Debbie March 01, 09:41
    Good information to know--Cathy, you do a wonderful job--keep up the great work!!! Unfortunately we need your program--so sad. So glad you are there to help.
  2. Em March 03, 21:02
    Thank you for raising awareness. Need to keep my eyes and ears open. I do have a question or thought. Isn't pressure a big factor when it comes to suicide. I've noticed at some very impressive schools where expectation may be high there has been an increase in suicides.
    • Cathy Strunk, RN, MSN March 08, 14:20
      Hi Em, According to the American Association of Suicidology, stress at school can be a contributory risk factor for suicide, which could include high academic pressure. Of course, any type of chronic stress can contribute to depression, which is the major risk factor for suicide. It is important to understand, though, that these risk factors do not occur in isolation, but most often have the greatest impact on someone who is struggling with an underlying mental disorder, such as depression.