| Home | Article Database | Resources | Tools & Just for Fun | Search HY |

Suicide Facts

Suicide is a complex behavior usually caused by a combination of factors. Research shows that almost all people who kill themselves have a diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder or both, and that the majority have depressive illness. Studies indicate that the most promising way to prevent suicide and suicidal behavior is through the early recognition and treatment of depression and other psychiatric illnesses.

Most people who are depressed do not kill themselves. Suicide is considered a possible complication of depressive illness in combination with other risk factors because suicidal thoughts and behavior can be symptoms of moderate to severe depression. These symptoms typically respond to proper treatment, and usually can be avoided with early intervention for depressive illness. Any concerns about suicidal risk should always be taken seriously and evaluated by a qualified professional immediately.

Suicide Risk Factors

It is important to note that many people experience one or more risk factors and are not suicidal.

One or more diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder

  • Impulsivity
  • Adverse life events
  • Family history of mental or substance abuse disorder
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Prior suicide attempt
  • Firearm in the home
  • Incarceration
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, including family, peers, or in the news or fiction stories

How To Help

It is not true that if a person talks about suicide, they will not attempt it. Seriously suicidal people make such comments for a variety of reasons--it is extremely important to take these remarks seriously and help that person seek a mental health evaluation and treatment. A person in crisis may not be aware that they are in need of help or be able to seek it on their own. They may also need to be reminded that effective treatment for depression is available, and that many people can very quickly begin to experience relief from depressive symptoms. Prevention Programs

Studies have shown that the suicide prevention programs most likely to succeed are those with a broader focus on identification and treatment of mental illness and substance abuse, coping with stress, and controlling aggressive behaviors. All suicide prevention programs first need to be tested for efficacy and safety.

NIMH Public Inquiries
6001 Executive Boulevard, Rm. 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663 U.S.A.
Voice (301) 443-4513; Fax (301) 443-4279
TTY (301) 443-8431

Updated: November 26, 1999