Risk & Protective Factors
Suicide Risk Factors
There is no single cause of suicide, rather a variety of factors (including biological, psychological, interpersonal, environmental, and societal) influence an individual’s risk of suicide. There are known risk factors that increase the likelihood a person may attempt or die by suicide. However, it is important to note that these factors are associated with suicide and the majority of people with these risk factors do not die by suicide.
According to the CDC and the best available research evidence, easy access to lethal methods is a risk factor for suicide:
- While firearms account for less than 5% of suicidal acts, they comprise more than half of all deaths by suicide.1
- Suicide by firearm is almost always deadly — 9 out of 10 firearm suicide attempts result in death.1
- By comparison, the most frequently chosen suicide attempt method of poisoning/overdose is significantly less fatal, resulting in death in less than 2% of attempts.1
- Access to a gun in the home increases the odds of suicide more than three-fold.²
Of all risk factors for suicide, access to lethal methods, such as firearms, is relatively easily modifiable and thus provides a critical point for intervention.
Additionally, the CDC reports the following other risk factors for suicide:
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- Mental illness, such as depression
- Social isolation
- Criminal problems
- Financial problems
- Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
- Job problems or loss
- Legal problems
- Serious illness
- Substance use disorder
- Adverse childhood experiences such as child abuse and neglect
- Family history of suicide
- Relationship problems such as a break-up, violence, or loss
- Sexual violence
- Barriers to health care
- Cultural and religious beliefs, such as a belief that suicide is noble resolution of a personal problem
- Suicide cluster in the community
- Stigma associated with mental illness or help-seeking
- Unsafe media portrayals of suicide
Suicide Protective Factors
A protective factor is any characteristic or influence that can help protect a person from suicidal thoughts and behavior, thus decreasing the likelihood a person may attempt or die by suicide. Just as a variety of factors influence an individual’s risk of suicide, a variety of factors can help prevent suicide.
According to the CDC and the best available research evidence, limited access to lethal means is a protective factor for suicide.
Additionally, the CDC reports the following other protective factors for suicide:
- Coping and problem-solving skills
- Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide
- Connections to friends, family, and community support
- Supportive relationships with care providers
- Availability of physical and mental health care
Reducing access to lethal means for a person in a suicidal crisis can save lives.