Risk Factors for Youth Suicide


Risk Factors for Youth Suicide

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Risk factors for suicide refer to personal or environmental  characteristics  that  are associated  with  suicide. The environment includes the social and cultural environment as well as the physical environment. People affected by one or more of these risk factors may have a greater probability of suicidal behavior. Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as a previous suicide attempt, but they can be used to help identify someone who may be vulnerable to suicide.

There is no single, agreed upon list of risk factors. The list below summarizes the risk factors identified by the most recent research.

 

Behavioral Health Issues/Disorders:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance abuse or dependence (alcohol and other drugs)
  • Conduct/disruptive behavior disorders
  • Other disorders (e.g., anxiety disorders, personality disorders)
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Self-injury (without intent to die)
  • Genetic/biological vulnerability (mainly abnormalities in serotonin functioning, which can lead to some of the behavioral health problems listed above)

 

Note: The presence of multiple behavioral health disorders (especially the combination of mood and disruptive behavior problems or substance use) increases suicide risk.

 

Personal Characteristics

  • Hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness
  • Social alienation and isolation, lack of belonging
  • Low stress and frustration tolerance
  • Impulsivity
  • Risk taking, recklessness
  • Poor problem-solving or coping skills
  • Perception of self as very underweight or very overweight
  • Capacity to self-injure
  • Perception of being a burden (e.g., to family and friends)

 

Adverse/Stressful Life Circumstances

  • Interpersonal difficulties or losses (e.g., breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend)
  • Disciplinary or legal problems
  • Bullying, either as victim or perpetrator
  • School or work problems (e.g., actual or perceived difficulties in school or work, not attending school or work, not going to college)
  • Physical, sexual, and or psychological abuse
  • Chronic physical illness or disability
  • Exposure to suicide of peer

 

Risky Behaviors

  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Delinquency
  • Aggressive/violent behavior
  • Risky sexual behavior

 

Family Characteristics

  • Family history of suicide or suicidal behavior
  • Parental mental health problems
  • Parental divorce
  • Death of parent or other relative
  • Problems in parent-child relationship (e.g., feelings of detachment from parents, inability to talk with family members, interpersonal conflicts, family financial problems, family violence or abuse, parenting style either under protective or overprotective and highly critical)
 

Environmental Factors

  • Negative social and emotional environment at school, including negative attitudes, beliefs, feelings,and interactions of staff and students
  • Lack of acceptance of differences
  • Expression and acts of hostility
  • Lack of respect and fair treatment
  • Lack of respect for the cultures of all students
  • Limitations in school physical environment, including lack of safety and security
  • Weapons on campus
  • Poorly lit areas conducive to bullying and violence
  • Limited access to mental health care
  • Access to lethal means, particularly in the home
  • Exposure to other suicides, leading to suicide contagion
  • Exposure to stigma and discrimination against students based on sexual orientation; gender identity; race and ethnicity; disability; or physical characteristics, such as being overweight.

 

Stigma and discrimination lead to:

  • Victimization and bullying by others, lack of support from and rejection by family and peers, dropping out of school, lack of access to work opportunities and health care
  • Internalized homophobia, stress from being different and not accepted, and stress around disclosure of being gay, which can lead to low self-esteem, social isolation, and decreased help-seeking
  • Stress due to the need to adapt to a different culture, especially reconciling differences between one's family and the majority culture, which can lead to family conflict and rejection.