Risk factors for suicide

Risk factors for suicide are characteristics that make it more likely that a person will consider, attempt, or die by suicide. Note that these are not warning signs or predictions, but factors that have been shown by research to contribute to suicide attempts. Risk factors for suicide vary by age, gender, and ethnic group.

  • Men take their lives at nearly four times the rate of women, accounting for 79% of suicides in the U.S.
  • Over 90% of people who die by suicide have clinical depression or another diagnosable mental disorder.
  • Many times, people who die by suicide have a substance abuse problem. Often they have that problem in combination with other mental disorders.
  • Other risk factors for suicide include:
    * One or more prior suicide attempts
    * Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
    * Family history of suicide
    * Family violence
    * Physical or sexual abuse
    * Keeping firearms in the home
    * Chronic physical illness, including chronic pain
    * Incarceration
    * Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, including online and in media

    *  Lack of social support and a sense of isolation
    *  A stigma associated with asking for help
    *  Lack of health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment

The risk of suicide is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss, or change, such as:

  *  Being fired or being expelled from school
  *  A recent unwanted move
  *  Loss of a major relationship

  *  Death of a spouse, child, or best friend, especially if by suicide
  *  Diagnosis of a serious or terminal illness
  *  Sudden unexpected loss of freedom/fear of punishment
  *  Anticipated loss of financial security
  *  Loss of a cherished therapist, counselor or teacher
  *  Fear of becoming a burden to others

warning signs of suicide

The more signs observed, the greater the risk. Take all signs seriously and  Get help  immediately.   You can save a life.

It is estimated that up to 75% of suicide victims display some warning signs or symptoms.  Warning signs that someone may be thinking about or planning to commit suicide include:

  • Talk of, or preoccupation with, suicide or death; threatening suicide; writing about death or suicide. Examples of direct verbal clues – all to be taken seriously!: “I’ve decided to kill myself;” “I wish I were dead;” “I’m going to commit suicide;” “I’m going to end it all;” “If (such and such) doesn’t happen, I’ll kill myself.”

Learn how to act in a bold, positive manner to prevent suicide.  Who needs to know QPR?  Everyone! 

For a QPR trainer in Columbia County, please contact us.   For a QPR trainer in other areas of Wisconsin, contact Prevent Suicide Wisconsin (see "Find a QPR trainer" on menu on right side of home page).

The book Suicide: the Forever Decision:  for Those Thinking about Suicide and for those Who Know, Love and Counsel Them by Paul Quinnett, Ph.D. is now available as a free download thanks to the QPR Institute.

Get in touch

Help save a life

There are many things you can do that make a difference:

  • Know the warning signs of suicide and respond to them by getting help immediately. See below for information on warning signs and risk factors of suicide.  Don't believe the myths about suicide; get the facts and share them with others.  Know what local resources are available and refer people to them for help.  Give hope.   
  • Get trained in the suicide prevention technique of QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer).  QPR training, like CPR,  is for everyone.  The 1.5 hour training is free and available locally.  Attend a QPR training or host one at your agency, organization, or business.  See side bar on right for more information.  Want to teach QPR?  Please contact us-- scholarships are available. 
  • ​Do you own a gun? Is it stored safely using a gun lock?  Get free gun locks at Columbia County Health and Human Services, Monday thru Friday, 8:00 am to 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 pm to 4:30 p.m.  Located at 2652 Murphy Road Portage; please use Entrance # 4. Keep all firearms locked and in a safe place.  If someone in your household is suicidal, remove the gun from the house-- bullets too.
  • Keep your prescription drugs locked up, and dispose of them properly when they are no longer in use. Don't flush or throw away expired or used prescriptions; they may contaminate the ground water or get into the wrong hands.  Columbia County residents may dispose of medication at any of these sites at no charge:
    City of Portage Police Dept, 117 West Pleasant St., Portage, (608) 742-2174
    Columbia Co. Law Enforcement Center, 711 East Cook St., Portage, (608) 742-4166
    City of Lodi Police Dept, 142 South Main St., Lodi, (608) 592-5401
    City of Columbus Police Department, 159 S. Ludington St., Columbus, (920) 623-5919
  • Join us-- attend our monthly Prevent Suicide Columbia County meeting.  All are welcome!  See below for more information.
  • Volunteer to help with one or more of our suicide prevention activities.  From stuffing envelopes to educating legislators, we can find a fit for you!  Contact us  for more information.
  • Make a tax-deductible  donation  to support our suicide prevention activities. 
  • Order free posters, wallet cards, and other publications from SAMHSA and display them at your business or organization. 

meeting location

Prevent Suicide Columbia County meets the third Thursday of even months  from 1:00 to 2:30 pm at the Columbia County Law Enforcement Center in the community room on the first floor at 711 E. Cook Street in Portage, Wisconsin, 53901.

join our mailing list

Stay up to date on the latest news and information from Prevent Suicide Columbia County.  Simply send us an email using the form to the right with "subscribe" as your subject.  If you'd like, include in the body of the email your name, organization (if applicable), mailing address, and phone number.  Personal information will not be shared with anyone outside of Prevent Suicide Columbia County.

QPR Training:  Question, Persuade, refer



QPR stands for Question, Persuade and Refer - three steps anyone can use to prevent a suicide.  Local organizations like Columbia County Health and Human Services and CESA 5 offer QPR training by volunteers who have taken the QPR Instructor Certification Program, which was created and developed by Paul Quinnett, Ph.D.   In Columbia County, there are eight QPR instructors affiliated with Prevent Suicide Columbia County who have trained over 700 people since December of 2012.  Want to teach QPR?  Contact us-- scholarships are available!      

Image: Pixabay by StockSnap

4 Ways Addiction Increases Risk of Suicide

by Steve Johnson

Substance abuse is a problem that impacts millions of Americans. Sadly,

suicide has also widely devastated families across the nation. The effect these

both have on families is not the only thing they have in common. Addiction

actually increases the risk of suicide, and a new study published in the Journal

of Affective Disorders helps to better understand this connection. Researchers

found that, among patients in substance abuse treatment, certain traits were

common amid those who had also attempted suicide. These traits included:

1.Progression of Substance Abuse
Among the patients studied, suicide risk was highest among those who had
first abused either alcohol or Marijuana. Specifically, the risk was the highest

when addicts moved from alcohol to Marijuana or Marijuana to Cocaine. While

those who started with drugs such as Methamphetamines or Cocaine still were

at risk for a suicide attempt, the rate was not as high as with individuals who

had begun with alcohol or Marijuana.

So, what is it about these
substances that increase risk of suicide? Researchers found that it may actually be the personal characteristics of the user, rather than the drug itself, that is the driving force behind a suicide attempt. For example, individuals with depression were more likely to use Marijuana and alcohol as a method of self-medication. The depressive state, and not necessarily the drug itself, was likely the major cause of the suicide attempts.

2.Mental Illness Prior to Addiction
Patients who suffered from a mental illness, including
depression, before becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol were more likely to attempt suicide. Those who suffer from depression often experience:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Trouble concentrating

Unfortunately, substance abuse is another frequent side effect associated with depression. As such, treatment for substance abuse should also include treatment for mental illnesses, especially for those who have displayed suicidal behaviors.
3.Prior Suicide Attempts
While suicide and substance abuse often go hand in hand, they aren’t always initially associated with one another. Those who have attempted suicide before experiencing addiction are more likely to make another attempt after addiction has set in. Since substance abuse may not have been the sole cause of a suicide attempt, treatment must address underlying cause(s). However, having made one
suicide attempt always increases the risk of another, even in individuals without a substance abuse disorder.

4.Family History
Children of addicts who later develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol themselves are at higher risk for suicide. Though the exact reasoning for this is unclear, it could be due to the following:

  • The childhood home and/or nurturing was insufficient
  • The possible genetic link between depression, substance abuse, and suicide
  • Growing up in the presence of an addict unlocked a predisposition to depression, substance abuse, or suicide

While substance abuse does change the way the brain functions, characteristics that were present before addiction must also be addressed. What is clear is that suicide attempts must not be taken lightly, especially when it comes to treating patients with substance abuse issues.  Whether depression or substance abuse came before or after a suicide attempt, the underlying cause of a patient’s mental state must be taken into account. It is worth noting that when a mental illness, such as depression, is treated, patients may experience an easier transition to a sober lifestyle.


Steve Johnson has always been dedicated to promoting health and wellness in all aspects of life. Studying in the medical field has shown him how important it is for reputable health-related facts, figures, tips, and other guidance to be readily available to the public. He created
PublicHealthLibrary.org with a fellow student to act as a resource for people’s overall health inquiries and as an accurate and extensive source of health information. When he isn’t hard at work in his studies, Steve enjoys playing tennis and listening to his vintage record collection.

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.  Making statements about life not being worth living, hating life, being a burden to others, that the "world would be better off without me," and similar feelings.  Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.  Examples: "I’m tired of life, I just can’t go on; “Who cares if I’m dead anyway;” “I just want out;” “I won’t be around much longer;” “Pretty soon you won’t have to worry about me.”
  • Signs of serious depression, including desperation; feelings of hopelessness; feeling no sense of purpose; loss of interest in things one used to care about; trouble sleeping and eating (eating and/or sleeping too much or too little).
  • Withdrawal from family and friends, isolation.
  • Reckless behavior, increased risk-taking.  Having a "death wish;" tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights.
  • Acting anxious or agitated.
  • Increased alcohol or drug use.
  • Feelings of rage or uncontrolled anger; talking about seeking revenge.
  • Looking for a way to commit suicide, such as searching online or seeking access to firearms, pills, or other methods.
  • Changing wills, preoccupation with putting one's affairs in order, giving away prized possessions, calling or visiting people to say goodbye.
  • Dramatic changes in personality.
  • Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy.