There are a number of factors that can increase someone’s risk of suicide. Understanding them is the first step to prevention.

If you’re concerned that you or someone you know has greater risk factors of suicide, you’re not alone.

Suicidal thoughts can be frightening and overwhelming, but they’re also common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019 roughly 12 million U.S. people had suicidal thoughts. About 1.4 million made suicide attempts.

CDC statistics demonstrate that many people who experience suicidal ideation (thinking about or planning to end one’s life) don’t go on to attempt suicide.

One of the best ways to make sure that someone doesn’t act on suicidal thoughts is understanding specific risk and protective factors.

According to 2019 data, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States overall, and the second leading among people ages 10 to 34.

Suicide rates increased more than 35% between 1999–2018, but initial reports hint that rates have actually decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it comes to preventing suicide, knowledge is power.

The best way to decrease overall suicide rates is by understanding individual risk factors for suicide and learning about the protective measures that can mitigate these risks. With this knowledge, you can help keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

A growing body of research suggests that genetics play a role in suicide risk.

In a large 2022 study, researchers identified two specific DNA variations that they believe make a person more likely to attempt suicide.

Many mental health conditions also have a genetic component, and many people with these conditions experience suicidal thoughts.

Protective factor

The study of genetics — epigenetics — is complex. If you inherit a gene, it does not mean you’ll definitely develop a condition or, in this instance, attempt suicide.

Genes are influenced by many things, including behaviors, your environment, and lifestyle choices. Any genetic predispositions you may have can be inactive, or even be reversible.

In other words, your genes are not your destiny.

Certain mental health conditions have been associated with an increased risk of suicidal thoughts.

This includes conditions that affect a person’s mood, like depression or bipolar disorder, and ones that cause symptoms of psychosis, like schizophrenia.

In 2015, about half of people who died by suicide were previously diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Protective factor

Mental health conditions are manageable and when managed, the risk of suicide is much lower.

Treatments are different depending on the condition, but most often involve therapy, medication, coping tools, or a combination.

If you or a loved one has a mental health condition and you’re concerned about suicide, it’s a good idea to speak with a doctor about treatment options.

Substance use has been reported to significantly increase a person’s risk of suicide.

This is true not only for illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin but also for many legal substances like prescription pain medications and alcohol.

One possible reason for this connection is that many substances can lower inhibitions, making someone more likely to act on suicidal thoughts.

Protective factor

Substance use is not, in itself, a problem. But if you’re concerned about dependence, there are plenty of proactive steps you can take.

It can help if you try and identify any triggers that may make you more likely to misuse substances — this could be a situation, a group of people, or a feeling.

You may want to consider setting limits for yourself or confiding in someone you trust to keep you accountable. Here are even more ways to manage your substance use.

Suicidal thoughts can feel all-consuming.

Thanks to the social stigma around suicide, having these thoughts can make folks feel even more isolated, particularly if they don’t have anyone to confide in.

Protective factor

Suicide is never the only option, even though it may feel that way. For anyone considering suicide, simply being heard and understood can be a powerful deterrent.

If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to someone you know, there are options.

Suicide hotlines are staffed by trained counselors who will listen without judgment.

There are also a number of online therapy platforms that can get you connected to a therapist to work through these thoughts.

Traumatic experiences can make a person more susceptible to suicidal thoughts.

A 2019 research review indicates that childhood abuse, in particular, strongly increases suicide risk. People with conditions related to trauma, like PTSD, also have an increased suicide risk.

Protective factor

Nobody should have to go through the aftermath of trauma or abuse alone. Feeling isolated and invalidated can prompt suicidal ideation in some people, so it’s vital to try and find an outlet to share your experiences.

You can connect with a therapist, suicide hotline, online support group, or with a trusted friend or relative. There’s no right or wrong way to approach this. The key thing to remember is that your trauma doesn’t define you.

Suicidal thoughts are common. Understanding suicide risk factors and measures to counter them can help prevent suicidal thoughts from turning into attempts.

If you or someone you know are thinking about acting on suicidal thoughts, or it seems as if they may harm themselves or others, this is a medical emergency. Hope and help are available.

If you’re considering self-harm or suicide, you’re not alone

If you’re having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can access free support right away with these resources:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call the Lifeline at 800-273-8255, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • The Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
  • The Trevor Project. LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? Call 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat online 24-7.
  • Veterans Crisis Line. Call 800-273-8255, text 838255, or chat online 24-7.
  • Deaf Crisis Line. Call 321-800-DEAF (3323) or text “HAND” at 839863.
  • Befrienders Worldwide. This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.