I’ve thought about what makes a person suicidal many times. Mostly, that’s because I’ve been both actively and passively suicidal for prolonged periods of my life. It’s hell, and I hate it. There are both general and specific things that make a person suicidal. Knowledge of these factors, along with ways to protect from suicidality, can help.

General Factors that Make a Person Suicidal

The biggest predictor of suicidality is mental illness. Specifically, a psychotic disorder (like schizophrenia), bipolar disorder, or a substance-related disorder have all been found to have high risks of suicide. In the case of bipolar disorder, suicidality is a specific symptom of a depressive disorder, so bipolar depression can definitely make you suicidal. Additionally, it’s worth noting that most people with bipolar disorder also have a comorbid substance use disorder, placing them at a particularly high risk.

In addition to mental illness, though, other general factors can contribute to making a person suicidal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these include:

  • Social isolation
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Suicide cluster in the community
  • The stress of becoming accustomed to a new culture
  • Community violence
  • Historical trauma
  • Discrimination
  • The stigma associated with help-seeking and mental illness
  • Unsafe media portrayals of suicide

To be honest with you, some of these I buy more than others. For example, I think social isolation definitely contributes to suicidality, whereas I’m not sure that current media portrayals of suicide really have much of an effect, but that’s me.

Specific Events that Make a Person Suicidal

In addition to the above, there are specific events that can contribute to making a person suicidal. I think it’s difficult to pinpoint these events for everyone. For example, I’ve gotten extremely depressed and suicidal to the point of being hospitalized after starting a new job. It was the new job that incited the depressive episode, but one could say it was the depression that caused the suicidality.

That said, the CDC also has a list of specific events that can lead a person to be suicidal. They include:

  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Serious illness such as chronic pain
  • Criminal/legal problems
  • Job/financial problems or loss
  • Current or prior history of adverse childhood experiences
  • Violence victimization and/or perpetration
  • Bullying
  • Family/loved one’s history of suicide
  • Loss of relationships
  • High-conflict or violent relationships
  • Easy access to lethal means of suicide

What Makes Me Suicidal

Some of the above I have personal experience with, and some of them I don’t. What I can say is that for me, life changes induce depression. Depression induces suicidality. When I’m suicidal, I might dwell on some of the above factors, though, so they are major contributors to making me suicidal as well. For example, I might be extremely depressed and suicidal, feel extremely hopeless, and focus on the loss of a relationship and job problems. This focus will just make me feel worse and worse and make me more and more suicidal.

I can also attest to the fact that lack of access to healthcare is a very big contributor to being suicidal. It was a large part of why I attempted suicide, in fact. I felt that if I couldn’t get access to a psychiatrist, then I couldn’t get help. If I couldn’t get help, then I couldn’t get better. And if I couldn’t get better, then there was no point in going on. I genuinely think that denying people access to the proper healthcare kills people every day.

How to Protect Yourself from Being Suicidal

Knowing what to do when you’re suicidal is critical, particularly if you have a serious mental illness. However, not being suicidal in the first place is much better. You can put protective factors into place to help prevent suicidality from coming on period.

According to the CDC, the factors that can prevent suicidality include:

  • Effective coping and problem-solving skills
  • Reasons for living (for example, family, friends, pets, etc.)
  • Strong sense of cultural identity
  • Support from partners, friends, and family
  • Feeling connected to other people, school, community, and other social institutions
  • Availability of consistent and high-quality physical and behavioral healthcare
  • Reduced access to lethal means of suicide
  • Cultural, religious, or moral objections to suicide

Some of these protective factors you’re born with, and others you can put into place in your own life. For example, various types of therapy can help you develop effective coping and problem-solving skills and help you find reasons for living. Being more engaged with others and the community (volunteering can be effective) may help you feel connected.

If You’ve Already Been Made Suicidal

Of course, it’s much easier to focus on protective factors in the good times rather than in the bad. If I’m already suicidal, I find three things are important:

  1. Treatment
  2. Delay
  3. Distraction

The first one is self-evident. If you’re suicidal, you must reach out to a professional and get treatment. If you have an illness like bipolar disorder, this likely means that your medication needs to be changed, among other things.

The second one is to delay the act of suicide. As in, thinking to myself, “I don’t have to kill myself right now. I can always do it later.”

If I consider whether I can survive one more minute without killing myself, that’s a delay that’s worth having.

Finally, distraction makes a big different to me. If I sit around thinking about how depressed and suicidal I am and my life problems that won’t go away, I’m going to be in more pain and am more likely to act on the feelings of suicidality. I very purposefully focus my attention on things that are safe for me.

It’s also critical to realize that going to a hospital or a psychiatric facility is an important option to consider. Your life is worth it.

For more on what to do if you’re suicidal, see here.

Ways to reach out can be found here.

What Makes a Person Suicidal Is Personal

While the above all matter, when it comes down to it, some suicide risk factors will matter more to an individual than others. It’s important to know yourself that way. We’re also each at risk for some things more than others. But no one can protect themselves from everything.

What I suggest is putting plans in place: one to prevent suicidality and one to act on when suicidality strikes. Maybe you’ll never need the second one. That would be great. But it’s important to have one just in case.

CDC source linked here.


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