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December 07, 2016

Suicide Risk Factors

Although there is evidence to suggest that some predisposing conditions to suicide are temporary, there is even greater evidence that this permanent act is associated with a constellation of longer-term factors that increase the likelihood that individuals take their own lives.

Like other risky and life threatening behaviors, suicides are associated with a variety of risk factors as well as protective factors that can be influenced by a variety of interventions.

Examples of Identified Risk Factors

Anything anyone can do to reduce access to lethal means can save lives. The idea that people will just “find another way” to kill themselves is a myth. The suicidal brain engages in very narrow thinking and this includes their thoughts about how they will complete suicide. Most suicides in Idaho are carried out with a firearm. There is a strong, well-proven correlation between the states with the highest suicide rates and the states with the highest percentage of gun-owning households. The most common location of firearm suicides by youth is in their homes, and there is a link between the accessibility and availability of firearms in the home and the risk for youth suicide. If someone is showing signs of suicide, one should remove firearms and all other means from the home, such as medications. In addition to thwarting an attempt or death, removing lethal means from the home shows the suicidal person that someone cares about them, which is another critical prevention measure.

Means Make a Difference

Restricting access to lethal means of suicide saves lives. If deadly methods are not readily available when a person decides to attempt suicide, it may delay the attempt.  A delay may allow time for an intervention, the possibility of later deciding not to attempt suicide, or using less deadly methods, allowing for greater possibility of medical rescue.

Safe storage of firearms can decrease the number of suicides.  Experts recommend that ammunition and firearms be locked and stored separately and that firearms be removed from the homes of those who are at risk for suicide.  It is also recommend to keep medication and household toxins locked up and to make sure that children do not have access to keys where guns, ammunition, medication or household toxins are stored.


Suicide can be aided in vulnerable teens by exposure to accounts of suicide, including media coverage of suicide (such as intensive reporting of the suicide of a celebrity). In addition, there is evidence that suicide clusters can occur: local incidents of suicide that have a contagious influence. Suicide clusters usually involve young people already at high risk for suicide who are affected by information about another’s suicide, whether they knew the deceased or not.
Family history of suicide put family members at greater risk for suicide themselves. Family members, particularly young members, may seek to model the behavior of the deceased as they may interpret that the deceased “solved their problems” with suicide. Additionally, some mental health disorders are known to run in families.
If someone has attempted suicide in the past, he or she is much more likely than others to attempt suicide again in the future. If a male teen has attempted suicide in the past, he is more than thirty times more likely to complete suicide, while a female with a past attempt has about three times the risk. About a third of teenage suicide victims have made a previous suicide attempt. The number of suicide attempts matters. Risk increases with each new attempt because the attempter is habituating to the idea of his or her death.