Risk Factors & Indicators

There are a myriad of factors that can put a person at risk for suicide or suicidal ideation as well as a variety of indicators of these feelings or intentions, but they can vary by age, gender, ethnicity, etc. There is no one factor or indicator that is full-proof in predicting suicidal behavior. Rather, risk factors and indicators should be looked at together and in context to determine a person’s level of risk.


If someone you know is presenting a combination of these risk factors and/or indicators and you suspect they may be suicidal DON’T WAIT – INTERVENE. You can call or chat with any number of local and national hotlines or organizations, many of which can be found on our home page. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to call 911! It is better to act and have been wrong, then to have stayed silent and be right – and potentially too late.

What are the risk factors for suicide?

Potential Risk Factors:

  • Underlying mental health issue. Over 90% of people who die by suicide have clinical depression or another diagnosable mental disorder (depression, PTSD, bi-polar disorder, etc.).
  • Substance Use or Abuse or relapse after a period of recovery. This is particularly dangerous in youth populations as suicide may be an impulsive decision influenced by a prefrontal cortex that is not fully developed. Drugs and alcohol lower inhibitions and compromise decision making, increasing risk exponentially.
  • Traumatic or stressful life events. This can include job loss, financial instability, death of a loved one, loss of an important relationship, unwanted move, chronic or incurable illness, incarceration, etc. For youth populations, this can be an event that happens to a parent or a loved one rather than directly to the youth.
  • Prior suicide attempts. Individuals who were previously suicidal or made a suicide attempt (particularly if they did not receive any kind of intervention or counseling) are at a far higher risk.
  • Being a suicide survivor. Those who survive an individual who died by suicide are at far higher risk than the general population, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the suicide loss.

Other risk factors for suicide include (but are not limited to):

  • Family violence
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Access to firearms (particularly for males) – SEE NOTE
  • Access to pills or blades (particularly for females) – SEE NOTE
  • Repeated high-risk/dangerous behavior (lack of concern for personal safety)
  • Being bullied (in person or virtually)
  • Struggle with sexual identity

It should also be noted that females are two times more likely to attempt suicide than males while males are four times more likely to complete. This is often attributed to the primary means utilized by the sexes: males tend to use firearms (which are generally instantaneously fatal) while females often choose pills/poisoning (which allows for a small window of opportunity for intervention or lifesaving efforts).

A special note about “suicide contagion”: Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, particularly when the act is completed by a highly visible individual, if the act is romanticized or sensationalized, or there is a highly visible outpouring of emotion (no matter how well intended), creates an increased risk for suicide particularly among youth populations. The media, communities, and even friends and family members can inadvertently contribute to this issue if safe reporting guidelines are not followed. Visit our “Resources” section for more information and guidelines on safe reporting.

What are common suicide indicators?

Like the risk factors outlined above, there are a variety of indicators that may be present in an individual who is suicidal or is experiencing suicidal ideation. Indicators can manifest as verbal or behavioral clues.  While these are good predictors, please be aware that approximately 5% of individuals who complete an act of suicide never exhibit any symptoms or indicators.

Potential Indicators:

  • Putting personal affairs in order
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Sudden interest or disinterest in religion
  • Increased interest in death and dying
  • Unexplained anger, aggression or irritability (particularly in males)
  • Direct expressions of suicidal ideation or intent such as “I wish I were dead” or “I’m going to kill myself.”
  • Indirect expressions of suicidal ideation or intent such as “I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up” or “Everyone would be better off without me.”
  • Stockpiling of pills or weapons
  • Change in interaction with family and friends
  • Recent disappointment or rejection
  • Sudden decline or improvement in academic performance
  • Increased apathy

Individuals who are suicidal may also experience physical symptoms including eating disturbances, changes in sleep patterns, chronic headaches, stomach problems, and/or menstrual irregularities.

To learn more

…and to become better prepared to intervene with an individual who may be at risk for suicide or expressing suicidal ideation, host or participate in a QPR Gatekeeper Training. You can also learn more by visiting our “Reports & Statistics” page and visiting the “Resources” section of this website.