Suicide (cont.)

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What are the risk factors and protective factors for suicide?

Ethnically, the highest suicide rates in the United States occur in non-Hispanic whites and in Native Americans. The lowest rates are in non-Hispanic blacks, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics. Former Eastern Bloc countries currently have the highest suicide rates worldwide, while South America has the lowest. Geographical patterns of suicides are such that individuals who live in a rural area versus urban area and the western United States versus the eastern United States are at higher risk for killing themselves. The majority of suicide completions take place during the spring.

In most countries, women continue to attempt suicide more often, but men tend to complete suicide more often. Although the frequency of suicides for young adults has been increasing in recent years, elderly Caucasian males continue to have the highest suicide rate. Other risk factors for taking one's life include single marital status, unemployment, low income, mental illness, a history of being physically or sexually abused, a personal history of suicidal thoughts, threats or behaviors, or a family history of attempting suicide. The means of attempting suicide can have particular risk factors as well. For example, individuals who attempt suicide by jumping from a height like a bridge may be more likely to be single, unemployed, and psychotic, while those who use firearms may more often have a history of legal issues, alcoholism, and certain personality disorders.

Data regarding mental illnesses as risk factors indicate that depressionmanic depression, schizophrenia, substance abuse, eating disorders, and severe anxiety increase the probability of suicide attempts and completions. Nine out of 10 people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental-health problem and up to three out of four individuals who take their own life had a physical illness when they committed suicide. Behaviors that tend to be linked with suicide attempts and completions include violence against others and self-mutilation, like slitting one's wrists or other body parts, or burning oneself.

Risk factors for adults who commit murder-suicide include male gender, older caregiver, access to firearms, separation or divorce, depression, and drug abuse or addiction. In children and adolescents, bullying and being bullied seem to be associated with an increased risk of suicidal behaviors. Specifically regarding male teens who ultimately commit murder-suicide by school shootings, being bullied may play a significant role in putting them at risk for this outcome. Another risk factor that renders children and teens more at risk for suicide compared to adults is having someone they know commit suicide, which is called contagion or cluster formation.

Generally, the absence of mental illness and substance abuse, as well as the presence of a strong social support system, decrease the likelihood that a person will kill him- or herself. Having children who are younger than 18 years of age also tends to be a protective factor against mothers committing suicide.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/26/2013

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