What leads a person to suicide?

There’s no single cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair. Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide. Yet it’s important to note that most people who actively manage their mental health conditions go on to engage in life.

Risk Factors:

Health
  • Mental health conditions
    • Depression
    • Substance use problems
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Schizophrenia
    • Personality traits of aggression, mood changes and poor relationships
    • Conduct disorder
    • Anxiety disorders
  • Serious physical health conditions including pain
  • Traumatic brain injury
Environmental
  • Access to lethal means including firearms and drugs
  • Prolonged stress, such as harassment, bullying, relationship problems or unemployment
  • Stressful life events, like rejection, divorce, financial crisis, other life transitions or loss
  • Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide
Historical
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • Childhood abuse, neglect or trauma

Warning Signs:

Talk

If a person talks about:

  • Killing themselves
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Having no reason to live
  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Unbearable pain
Behavior

Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression
  • Fatigue
Mood

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation/Shame
  • Agitation/Anger
  • Relief/Sudden Improvement

Protective Factors:

  • Access to mental health care, and being proactive about mental health
  • Feeling connected to family and community support
  • Problem-solving and coping skills
  • Limited access to lethal means
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that encourage connecting and help-seeking, discourage suicidal behavior, or create a strong sense of purpose or self-esteem

Youth in School Mental Health

More than 80% of children 6 to 17 years old diagnosed with mental health issues went untreated.

In an online survey, only 28% of 292 early childhood and elementary school teachers felt that they had the knowledge required to address the mental health needs of children.

In the same survey, 276 teachers reported on what they felt their schools’ mental health support lacked: adequate parent support programs (67%), prevention programs for students with externalizing behavior (62%), prevention programs for students with internalizing behavior (61%), and staff training and coaching (51%).

Sources:

Kataoka SH, Zhang L, Wells KB. Unmet need for mental health care among U.S. children: variation by ethnicity and insurance status. Am J Psychiatry. 2002;159(9):1548-1555.

Reinke WM, Stormont M, Herman KC, Puri R, Goel N. Supporting children’s mental health in schools: teacher perceptions of needs, roles, and barriers. Sch Psychol Q. 2011;26(1):1-13. 3