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Why Do People Become Suicidal and What Can I do to Help?

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D., and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 28th 2016

Why do people become suicidal?

You may be wondering why people become vulnerable to suicidal crises in the first place. There is no simple answer to this question as the conditions that cause each individual to enter a suicidal crisis are unique. We discuss the major risk factors and suicide triggers in our introductory article (click here to review this information). It is likely that a combination of these factors and triggers will be present simultaneously in order to cause someone to contemplate or attempt suicide. In other words, there is no one reason why people become suicidal. Instead, people become vulnerable to suicide due to a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. For instance, people may inherit a tendency to develop a mental illness. They may fail to learn how to cope effectively with stress for any number of reasons. People may also experience painful, disturbing and/or traumatic events that overwhelm the coping mechanisms they have developed.

3D Figure leaning on question markAs discussed in our introductory suicide article, the most frequent precipitating cause of suicide is the onset of mental illness. Mental illness is estimated to account for about 90% of all suicides. Depression is the most common mental illness experienced by people who commit suicide. Fortunately, depression and most other mental illnesses are treatable conditions and a wide variety of effective treatments are available. Treating the underlying depression will in most cases also treat the motivation for suicide and cause it to go away. For this reason, it is important that suicidal patients be examined and treated for depression and similar mental illnesses once the immediate danger associated with a given suicidal crisis is over. The best way to receive effective treatment for depression is to consult with a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. For more information about depression and its treatment, visit our depression center.

What can I do to help the suicidal person?

As a friend or family member of a suicidal person, you can help in several very important ways. First, you can help interrupt and disarm any active suicide attempts and defuse the danger of the immediate crisis situation. Second, you can help the suicidal person get connected to a mental health professional who can offer him or her effective support and intervention. Third, you can provide ongoing support and "cheerleading" as the person participates in treatment, practices new methods of coping and continues on with the often stressful business of day-to-day living.

In order to be effective in your helping, it will be necessary for you to go easy on any tendency you might have to judge the suicidal person. You must keep in mind that stress affects each person differently. Just because you might be able to handle something doesn't mean that everyone else can too with similar ease. There are often complicating factors that alter people's ability to cope that you may not know about, or about which you may not have proper perspective. Your judgment may end up being quite unfair and inappropriate. It will also certainly be perceived as criticism during a time when criticism is especially unwelcome. Do what you can to put judgment aside and simply act compassionately. Try to provide true assistance by helping the suicidal person find the professional help that he or she needs in order to safely resolve the crisis.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

life is truly a bi**h - - Feb 21st 2013

i am a realist so i going to talk the raw truth. some people become suicidal due to horrific experiences in their past when they were young and defenceless. no one not even their so called parents/guardians protected them from the evil which was done to them. even when they as an abused/beat up child try to tell these dummies at home what they are going through, they never listen to them and ever so rudely dismisses that there is a really serious problem in this child's daily life which deeply affects them. no child asked to be born to stupid parents and i know it is that lack of care and due attention and that can make someone consider taking their lives. they feel alone and unloved because no one is trying to protect them or be there for them when they cry or have a huge breakdown. everyone either laughs at you or they let you writhe in emotional and physical and otherwise pain. this is totally unfair and unacceptable as these wounds will not heal with time!!!!!! so called parents your child/children's blood shall rest squarely on your hands!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Don't count on it - - Dec 8th 2012

Don't believe this stuff . If someone wants to die they will commit suicide . It won't matter how much therapy or what medication , or how many medications they are taking . If they have decided to die they will . People that attempt suicide and weren't successful were just playing a game to get attention . And if someone wants to die it is selfish to use guilt to try to talk them out of it . Can you personally guarantee if a person doesn't commit suicide their life will get better . No you can't . Can you guarantee physical chronic pain some are living with will get better or go away , no you can't . If you say you can you are a liar . It's wrong to assume for anyone to think they have a right to tell anyone what they can and can't do with their life just because you may not agree with their choice . If people want to die back off and let them die .


resist pain - guess who - Jan 6th 2010

i am a girl who has had these thoughts. i know what it feels like to be in pain. it's like everyday life is just a big chore you have to deal with everyday. i've had peer pressure before. worst emotional feeling in the world. (second to depression i think) i had nothing in commen with anyone. i was the person who was very attractive, but always alone or shuned. outside life is a big impact too. dealing with your own personal life could ware you down. trying to help yourself. (but i gave up on myself..) because i knew i was not going to make it. well, i probably wasn't in the first place. i am very frail. and i get picked on sometimes about it. it just made the pain of life even worse. i started eating different or not eating at all, my personality would change dramaticly from happy and cheerful, to complete depression. my style changed. instead of wearing warm colors i started wearing black,blue,dark green ect. (i claimed light colors make me want to barf) i don't no what to say at this point don't know me. and i don't know you...but your not alone. there are many people who are like this; and i still feel the pain in my heart this day. i would always wonder when i sleep "who would miss me? my mom and my sister yeah, but 2 years from now...what then? i'll be rotting in the ground. and they'll forgot about me." i don't wanna say forget but they'll move on with or without me. but if one of them were to go i couldn't move on. absolutly not. the only people in my life that firght for me,care for me, in the'll always be the same no matter what the out come. "different path, same fate"

I became suicidal - anonymous - Jun 23rd 2009

Hi there, i am open to talking about this, but about 5 years ago, I had severe depression and ended up having a massive panic attack. I can't explain the amount of pain, but it spiralled me into a huge suicidal state, which I will never forget. The pain is incredible inside of your head, and you cannot do anything to rid it. Like living in hell..I have been on Zoloft now for that time, and seem to be living life normally. I am not crazy, quite sane and well I just want to know what causes that massive pain...its indescribable...That one encounter has changed my whole life..

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