What puts us at risk of suicide, and what helps protect us?

The things that put us at risk of suicide are a combination of individual, relationship, community and the culture that surrounds us (do we have opportunity for a job with a living wage, can we afford healthy food and safe housing, is violence acceptable, etc.).

While we may experience one or more of these risks, we can only say that they are associated with suicide-they might not be direct causes.

  • Stressful life events or crises, such as job loss, relationship trouble and major life changes
  • Access to lethal means (including firearms and medications)
  • Social isolation - being alone too much and feeling lonely 
  • Exposure to traumatic events, or having deeply troubling experiences, such as being assaulted, seeing others harmed, losing a loved one and more
  • Growing up with abuse in the home, neglect of the need for caring, loving adults or lack of food and/or safe housing; growing up with untreated addiction or mental illness in the home; loss of a parent/caregiver, and more
  • Use and misuse of alcohol and other drugs 
  • Mental health disorders and conditions, such as depression or anxiety
  • Chronic health conditions, including pain and traumatic brain injury
  • Lack of access to mental and behavioral health care
  • Knowing someone who died by suicide, particularly a family member
  • Significant dates, such as anniversaries of a loved ones' death or birth 

The things that put us at risk for suicide vary across groups of people. 

  • Stress resulting from prejudice and discrimination (family rejections, bullying, violence) is a known risk factor for suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. To find out more about what puts those of us in the LGBTQI+ community at risk, visit the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
  • For middle-aged men, unemployment, divorce and other changes that challenge traditional male roles (breadwinner, head of the household) can increase risk.
  • People living in poverty, especially in rural areas, are at risk due to increased stress and lack of access to effective and affordable behavioral and mental health care.
  • Older adults and youth who are alone too much or who feel isolated and lonely, are at risk.
  • First responders (including EMS, fire, law enforcement, emergency dispatchers) and military veterans are exposed to death by suicide, which puts them at risk as well. People in these professions also tend to have higher rates of post-traumatic stress, which is associated with depression and anxiety. In addition, they may be exposed to beliefs that seeking help is not acceptable. Finally, these groups tend to have increased access to lethal means, such as guns and powerful medications.

There are also many factors that help protect us from the risk of suicide.

  • Good care for mental, physical, and substance abuse disorders
  • Support for seeking help
  • Being connected to others, including family and friends, knowing people in the community and being involved in clubs or organizations
  • Having skills including problem solving skills, coping skills and ability to adapt to change
  • Feeling good about ourself, and having a sense of purpose or meaning in life
  • Having beliefs that discourage suicide, and/or living among others whose beliefs that discourage suicide

To find out more about what puts us at risk for suicide and the warning signs, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Contact Information

Department of Mental Health
Commissioner Sarah Squirrell
280 State Drive, NOB 2 North
Waterbury, VT 05671-2010
Phone: (802) 241-0090
Fax: (802) 241-0100

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