People may consider suicide for a variety of reasons, including mental health problems, chronic illness, or social isolation.

People may contemplate suicide due to a wide and complex range of factors. These may involve trauma, loneliness, mental health issues, or personal crises, like financial ruin or relationship breakdowns.

As suicide is a global public health crisis, claiming more than 700,000, it’s important that we recognize these challenges and reduce the factors that may lead someone to take their own life.

Language matters

We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms assigned at birth. However, gender is solely about how you identify yourself, independent of your physical body.

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1. Mental illness

Living with mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia can result in overwhelming emotional pain and a profound sense of hopelessness.

This internal turmoil may lead individuals to consider suicide as a means to escape symptoms they may be experiencing.

Notably, people with schizophrenia face a particularly high suicide rate of 10%, far exceeding the general population’s rate of 1.3%.

A significant percentage of those living with schizophrenia, 40%-79%, experience suicidal thoughts.

2. Hopelessness

Extended periods of hopelessness, often stemming from life challenges like financial strain, relationship issues, or chronic health problems, can diminish one’s sense of purpose.

When individuals feel trapped with no apparent solutions, suicide may seem like the sole means to escape these overwhelming problems.

In a 6-week study, researchers explored how feelings of hopelessness predict suicidal thoughts in 158 depressed young individuals undergoing acute medication treatment.

They discovered that higher levels of hopelessness at the start were linked to an increased likelihood of experiencing suicidal thoughts during treatment, particularly among females. This underscores the importance of identifying and addressing hopelessness early on.

3. Isolation

Long-term social isolation and loneliness can intensify emotional distress, leaving individuals feeling disconnected and struggling to find purpose. This potentially increases the likelihood of experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Several studies have demonstrated the link between social isolation and suicide, highlighting the protective role of social support.

Understanding the importance of reducing isolation and building strong social bonds can be a big help in preventing suicide and promoting emotional health.

4. Chronic illness

Chronic illness comes with physical, emotional, and social challenges, including:

  • pain
  • lower quality of life
  • financial stress
  • loneliness
  • hopelessness

When people feel overwhelmed by their ongoing health issues without improvement, they may consider suicide.

A study of 47 million people in England showed higher suicide rates among those diagnosed with low-survival cancer, heart disease, chronic lung disease (COPD), and degenerative neurological conditions compared to others.

The risk is greatest within the first 6 months of diagnosis.

This underscores the importance of providing early mental health support and suicide prevention for people facing such health conditions.

5. Substance use disorders

Substance use problems often accompany mental health issues, making emotional struggles more challenging. The impulsive actions tied to substance misuse can lead to thoughts of suicide, especially when people feel trapped by their addiction and its consequences.

A population study in the United States found that substance use disorders (SUDs) are closely connected to a higher risk of suicide, particularly in women.

This risk is linked to various substance use categories, including tobacco. The greatest risk was seen in those facing multiple alcohol, drug, and tobacco use issues.

6. Bullying

Prolonged bullying can lead to depression, hopelessness, and loneliness, contributing to suicidal thoughts and actions.

A review of 28 studies found a clear association between bullying experiences and suicidal ideation and attempts among young individuals. Girls involved in bullying, whether as victims or perpetrators, were at a higher risk of suicide attempts than boys.

7. Trauma and PTSD

Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can contribute to suicidal thoughts and actions due to the overwhelming psychological distress it generates.

Trauma survivors frequently endure vivid and distressing memories, nightmares, and emotional numbness, intensifying feelings of hopelessness.

A Swedish study found that individuals with PTSD have significantly higher suicide rates, even after adjusting for sociodemographic factors and previous psychiatric conditions.

If PTSD had a causal role, it was estimated that 1.6% of all suicides in the general population could be attributed to PTSD. Among individuals with PTSD, this percentage increased significantly to 53.7%.

Help for suicidal thoughts

If you have suicidal thoughts, it’s crucial to seek immediate help and support.

Reach out to a mental health professional, a trusted friend or family member, or a crisis helpline like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) in the United States.

Your well-being matters and help is available.

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  • expressing thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • isolating from friends and family
  • giving away possessions
  • dramatic mood swings
  • sudden calmness after a period of depression
  • preoccupation with death
  • self-destructive behavior

Supporting someone who displays suicidal behaviors

  • Listen non-judgmentally.
  • Encourage open communication.
  • Offer reassurance and empathy.
  • Don’t leave them alone.
  • Help them seek professional help.
  • Remove access to means of self-harm.
  • Reach out to a crisis hotline for guidance.

The reasons behind suicide are complex, and rooted in profound emotional pain and despair. Some of these can include:

  • overwhelming mental health issues
  • personal crises
  • chronic illnesses
  • social isolation
  • a feeling of hopelessness

Yet, understanding this complex issue is the first step in prevention.

By recognizing signs, offering empathy, and promoting mental health support, we can make a difference.