It’s difficult to imagine what led a friend, family member, or celebrity to commit suicide. There may have been no clear warning signs, and you may wonder what clues you might have missed. Often, many factors combine to lead a person to the decision to take their own life.
Most people make the decision to attempt suicide shortly before doing so impulsively rather than planning it out extensively.
While there are many factors that can influence a person’s decision to commit suicide, the most common one is severe depression.1 Depression can make people feel great emotional pain and loss of hope, making them unable to see another way to relieve the pain other than ending their own life.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, depression is present in about half of all suicides.
Other mental illnesses that can increase the risk of suicide include:
A person who has had a traumatic experience, including childhood sexual abuse, rape, physical abuse, or war trauma, is at a greater risk for suicide, even many years after the trauma.4
In a survey of nearly 6,000 U.S. adults, nearly 22% of people who have been raped had attempted suicide at some point while 23% who experienced physical assault tried to take their own life at some point.
Being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) or multiple incidents of trauma raises the risk even further. This is partly because depression is common after trauma and among those with PTSD, causing feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that can lead to suicide.
Substance Use and Impulsivity
Drugs and alcohol can also influence a person who is feeling suicidal, making them more impulsive and likely to act upon their urges than they would be while sober. Substance and alcohol use can contribute to other reasons people commit suicide, such as the loss of jobs and relationships.5
The rates of substance use and alcohol use disorder are also higher among people with depression and other psychological disorders. Put these together and the risks increase.
Loss or Fear of Loss
A person may decide to take their own life when facing a loss or the fear of a loss. These situations can include:
- Academic failure
- Being arrested or imprisoned
- Bullying, shaming, or humiliation, including cyberbullying
- Financial problems
- End of a close friendship or romantic relationship
- Job loss
- Loss of friends or family acceptance due to revealing your sexual orientation
- Loss of social status
Hopelessness, either in the short-term or as a longer-lasting trait, has been found in many studies to contribute to the decision to commit suicide. The person may be facing a social or physical challenge and may see no way the situation can improve.
When people feel they have lost all hope and don’t feel able to change that, it can overshadow all of the good things in their life, making suicide seem like a viable option.
While it might seem obvious to an outside observer that things will get better, people with depression may not be able to see this due to the pessimism and despair that go along with this illness.
Chronic Pain and Illness
If a person has chronic pain or illness with no hope of a cure or reprieve from suffering, suicide may seem like a way to regain dignity and control of their life. In some states, assisted suicide is legal for this very reason.
According to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the following health conditions were associated with a higher risk of suicide:6
- Back pain
- Brain injury
- Congestive heart failure
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Parkinson’s disease
Chronic pain can also bring on anxiety and depression, which can also increase your risk of suicide. According to research, people with chronic pain are four times more likely to have depression or anxiety than those who are pain-free.7
Feeling Like a Burden to Others
A person with chronic pain or a terminal illness can also feel like a burden to others, as it becomes harder and harder to ask for yet another ride to the doctor’s office or more help with household duties or assistance paying for hospital bills. In fact, many people who decide to commit suicide often state that their loved ones or the world, in general, would be better off without them.
This type of rhetoric is a common warning sign of suicide. People often see themselves as a burden to others or feel worthless due to the overwhelming emotional burden they are carrying within.
A person can become socially isolated for many reasons, including losing friends or a spouse, undergoing a separation or divorce, physical or mental illness, social anxiety, retirement, or due to a move to a new location. Social isolation can also be caused by internal factors such as low self-esteem. This can lead to loneliness and other risk factors of suicide such as depression and alcohol or drug misuse.
Cry for Help
Sometimes people attempt suicide not so much because they really want to die, but because they simply don’t know how to get help. Suicide attempts are not a cry for attention but a cry for help. It becomes a way to demonstrate to the world just how much they are hurting.
Unfortunately, these cries for help may sometimes prove to be fatal if the person misjudges the lethality of their chosen method. People who make a failed attempt are also at a much higher risk of trying again, and their second attempts are much more likely to be lethal.
Some situations that appear to be suicide may actually be an accidental death. The choking game (also known as “pass-out challenge,” “flatliner,” and “space monkey”) where teens strangle themselves to achieve a high-like sensation and autoerotic asphyxiation are examples of suffocation suicides. Other accidental suicides include unintentional overdoses and firearm and poisoning suicides.
A Word From Verywell
You may never know why a person committed suicide. While it might have appeared that someone had everything to live for, it probably didn’t feel that way to them.