Why do People Take Their Lives?

Many factors lead individuals to try to end their lives. Drug and alcohol dependence and abuse, depression and certain other mental illnesses, impulsiveness and aggressiveness, family history of suicide, parental psychopathology, previous attempts, and recent losses or setbacks (like a relationship break-up, arrest, or job problem) are risk factors for suicide deaths and attempts (WHO 2002, Gould 2003). Cultural factors also play a role. Feeling hopeless is probably the most common theme.

Suicide attempts (whether fatal or nonfatal) rarely occur “out of the blue.” Attempters typically face multiple problems-some long term, some short term. The moment when they take action, however, is often during a brief period of heightened vulnerability.

One of the most powerful risk factors for suicide deaths is the ready availability of highly lethal methods. In the U.S., that means guns.


Krug EG, Dahlberg LL, Ziwi AB, Lozano R (eds). World Report on Violence and Health. WHO: Geneva, 2002. (Chapter on suicide)

Gould MS, Greenberg T, Velting DM, Shaffer D. Youth suicide risk and preventive interventions: a review of the past 10 years. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2003;42(4):386-405.