Risk Factors for Suicide

Risk Factors for Suicide

 As a nurse who teaches suicide prevention, I believe knowing the warning signs of suicide can be especially helpful for parents who might not have considered the possibility of this happening to their child. However, it is also important to understand the risk factors for suicide along with the warning signs to gain a more complete picture.

Suicide is highly complex and cannot be attributed to a single cause. It often occurs when people who have an underlying mental health condition encounter stressors that are beyond their current coping abilities. A combination of health, environmental and historical factors contribute to the risk, but are not necessarily direct causes.

However, 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 socio-economic 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


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


  • Major stressful events (divorce, death)
  • Prolonged stress (bullying, harassment, relationship issues, job loss)
  • Exposure to another suicide
  • Access to lethal means (firearms, drugs)


  • Has attempted suicide before, or
  • Has a family member who has attempted 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, begin to abuse alcohol or drugs, have 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 a parent, if you are sensing a pattern or noticing that your child falls into a few of the above categories, then ask him or her about it in a nonjudgmental way. If you need some help, I developed Steps to LAST®, which gives tips to parents about how to talk to their children if they suspect they are depressed or feeling troubled.

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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Cathy Strunk, RN, MSN

About the Author: Cathy Strunk, RN, MSN

Cathy Strunk, MSN, RN, is a suicide prevention expert and liaison, and developed the Steps to LAST tips as a part of the Surviving the Teens/Suicide Prevention Program.

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  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 Author 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.