Unifying Concepts

Risk Factors for Suicide

Risk factors for suicide have been investigated at the population and individual levels; in addition, predisposing factors and precipitating events have been examined, mainly at the individual level. Each of these factors can be mediated through genetic, psychological, and personality characteristics, making most explanatory models complex and difficult to interpret. One approach to understanding suicide has been life-course analysis, which is based on the premise that risk factors come into play at different stages of life and that suicide is the cumulative result of risk factors over a lifetime.

Risk Factors for Suicide

Risk Factor Strength of Association
with Suicide
Precipitating factors
Drug and alcohol misuse Strong
Access to lethal means (farmers, nurses, veterinarians, physicians, and police) Moderate
Life events (relationship difficulties (particularly separation or divorce), death of a partner, and death by suicide of someone close,  in particular, for mothers, death by suicide of adult children) Moderate
New diagnosis of terminal or chronic physical illness (particularly in the first week after a diagnosis of cancer) Moderate
Media effects Weak
Predisposing factors
Neuropsychiatric disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia-spectrum disorders, substance use disorders, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury) Strong
Family history of suicidal behavior Strong
Previous suicide attempt Moderate
Adverse childhood experiences (childhood sexual abuse) Moderate
Socioeconomic deprivation Weak




  1. Fazel S, Runeson B. Suicide. N Engl J Med. 2020;382(3):266–274. [Medline]
  2. Bachmann S. Epidemiology of Suicide and the Psychiatric Perspective. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(7):1425. [Medline]


Created Feb 05, 2020.

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