Risk Factors

A risk factor is any characteristic or exposure that increases the likelihood a person may attempt or die by suicide. A variety of factors influence an individual’s risk of suicide. However, it is important to note that these factors are associated with suicide and there is no one direct cause for suicidal thoughts or behavior.


According to the CDC, easy access to lethal methods is a risk factor for suicide:

  • While firearms account for less than 1% of nonfatal self-harm injuries, 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.2
  • By comparison, the more frequently chosen suicide attempt method of poisoning/overdose is significantly less fatal, resulting in death in less than 2% of attempts.2
  • Access to a gun in the home increases the odds of suicide more than three-fold.3


Of all risk factors for suicide, access to lethal methods, such as firearms, is relatively easily modifiable and thus procvides a critical point for intervention.


Additionally, the CDC reports the following other risk factors for suicide:

  • Family history of suicide or child maltreatment
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • History of mental illness, especially clinical depression
  • History of risky alcohol or substance use
  • Feelings of hopelessness or isolation
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Cultural and religious beliefs
  • Local epidemics of suicide
  • Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
  • Loss (relational, social, work, or financial)
  • Physical illness
  • Unwillingness to seek help because of stigma

Reducing access to lethal means for a person in a suicidal crisis can save lives.


  1. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC. Nonfatal Injury Reports, 2000-2016. Available: http://cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/nonfatal.html
  2. Azrael D & Miller M. (2016). Reducing suicide without affecting underlying mental health: Theoretical underpinnings and a review of the evidence base linking the availability of lethal means and suicide. In The International Handbook of Suicide Prevention, 2nd Ed (pp. 637-662).
  3. Anglemyer A, Horvath T, & Rutherford G. (2014). The accessibility of firearms and risk for suicide and homicide victimization among household members: A systematic review and meta analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine.

This page was last updated on August 1, 2019.