Knowing who is at risk of suicide can help improve intervention strategies among high risk populations.

Suicide is the intentional ending of your life through self-directed behavior.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is consistently a leading cause of death in the United States. In 2021, it was responsible for approximately 48,000 deaths.

Globally, suicide is a serious public health concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) states more than 700,000 people die by suicide each year, and no region of the world is unaffected.

It’s not always possible to predict suicide, but some people have a higher risk than others.

Many factors influence suicide risk. Across all populations, primary risk factors include:

  • family history of suicide
  • history of suicide attempts
  • living with a mental health condition, like depression or substance use disorder
  • family history of mental health conditions
  • exposure to violence, abuse, or both
  • direct or indirect exposure to someone else’s suicidal behavior
  • living with chronic pain
  • presence of firearms in the home
  • recent release from incarceration
  • prolonged stress
  • trauma
  • major loss

Your social determinants of health can heavily influence suicide risk. Social determinants of health are the conditions and factors that make up your everyday lived experience.

Suicide risk can increase based on negative social determinants of health, such as:

  • racism and discrimination
  • poverty
  • unemployment
  • financial hardship
  • lack of affordable housing
  • barriers to quality healthcare
  • limited access to education
  • relationship challenges
  • isolation
  • bullying
  • social stigma
  • high stress occupations

Social determinants of health drive many suicide disparities seen by age, gender, and ethnicity.

For example, suicide risk is higher among men than women, a disparity attributed to factors such as harmful gender norms, increased access to firearms, and higher rates of substance use disorder.

Other populations with higher-than-average suicide risk include:

  • adults over 45 years old
  • young people 10–24 years old
  • marginalized gender groups, such as women and transgender people
  • LGBTQIA+ people
  • veterans
  • Indigenous Americans and Alaska Natives
  • people living with disability
  • people working in construction and gas extraction
  • people living in rural locations

Risk factors are not a guarantee of suicide. Many people from groups with higher-than-average suicide risk never consider suicide.

Help is out there

If you or someone you know is in crisis and considering suicide or self-harm, please seek support:

If you’re calling on behalf of someone else, stay with them until help arrives. You may remove weapons or substances that can cause harm if you can do so safely.

If you are not in the same household, stay on the phone with them until help arrives.

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One of the reasons suicide is so devastating to family and friends is that there may not be obvious signs.

Signs of suicidal behaviors can be subtle. They can include:

  • changes in sleeping patterns
  • social withdrawal
  • decline in school or job performance
  • frequent complaints about physical discomfort linked to emotional distress, like stomachaches or headaches
  • changes in eating habits
  • appearing distracted all the time
  • loss of enjoyment and interest in activities
  • impulsivity
  • giving away important possessions

More visible signs of suicidal behavior can include:

  • making comments about wanting to die
  • being preoccupied with death and dying
  • stating everyone would be better off without them
  • expressing hopelessness and helplessness
  • making a will or “final arrangements”
  • engaging in dangerous behaviors that could cause death
  • saying they feel trapped or have no options to improve their situation
  • talking about unbearable physical or emotional pain
  • misusing substances
  • experiencing extreme mood shifts
  • researching suicide or preparing a plan for suicide
  • writing a suicide note or goodbye statement

Factors that lower the risk of suicide are called protective factors. They’re circumstances in everyday life that reduce the likelihood someone will seriously consider suicide.

Protective factors include:

  • feeling connected to others
  • a network of supportive loved ones
  • strong sense of cultural identity
  • adaptive coping mechanisms and conflict resolution skills
  • a sense of greater purpose
  • involvement with community programs and social networks
  • access to quality healthcare
  • reduced access to lethal objects
  • moral objections to the concept of suicide
  • strong sense of self-esteem
  • effective mental health care

Thoughts of suicide are called suicidal ideation. If a loved one is actively thinking about suicide, getting help as soon as possible can make a difference.

For situations that are immediately life threatening, stay with the person and contact emergency services by dialing 911, or call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

If a loved one opens up to you about contemplating suicide, or if you have cause to suspect suicidal behavior, ways to approach the situation include:

  • encouraging open and honest communication about suicide and suicide ideation
  • removing all items that could be used as tools for suicide
  • keeping questions calm and direct
  • asking if you can help your loved one reach their mental health professional
  • expressing your support and concern
  • staying compassionate
  • avoiding arguing, threatening, or guilting
  • keeping your tone gentle
  • not debating whether suicide is right or wrong
  • providing validation for their feelings
  • skipping dismissive statements, like “Things aren’t that bad”
  • offering to help them seek professional support

You can’t always know when someone will act on suicidal ideation. There’s never a wrong time to contact emergency services, even if the situation appears to be successfully de-escalated.

Suicide is a global health concern. It affects people from all genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic standings.

While there is no way to accurately predict whether someone will attempt suicide, knowing the risk factors can help improve intervention and treatment strategies.