The Harvard Health Blog

What pushes a person to commit suicide?

Most people who commit suicide are depressed, but what triggers this irrevocable step varies from person to person. Suicide may stem from intense feelings of anger, despair, hopelessness, or panic. Sometimes it's carried out under the sway of a highly distorted or psychotic idea. Many suicides are impulsive.

A number of factors can put an individual at a higher risk for suicide in the short term. These include:

  • an episode of depression, psychosis, or anxiety
  • a significant loss, such as the death of a spouse or the loss of a job
  • loss of social support, for example, because of a move or when a close friend relocates
  • a personal crisis or life stress, especially one that increases a sense of isolation or leads to a loss of self-esteem, such as a separation or divorce
  • an illness or medication that triggers a change in mood
  • exposure to the suicidal behaviors of others, such as friends, peers, or celebrities.

None of these circumstances necessarily lead to suicide. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people who experience one or more of these circumstances don't commit suicide and it's impossible to predict who will. But any life-upsetting blow can set a vulnerable individual on a self-destructive course.

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