Causal risk factors

Causal factors for suicide include different mental illnesses or symptoms of being mentally unwell.

Mental health relationship

While not all people who suicide have a mental illness, there is a very strong relationship between mental health problems and suicide. Some studies have shown that as many as 70% of people who think about suicide and act on it have a mental health problem.

Therefore, mental health is one of the most important risk factors to consider and deal with… that is, to manage the risk.

What is mental illness?

There are a range of mental health problems somebody could be experiencing, including:

  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • posttraumatic stress disorder
  • anxiety
  • psychosis

Often symptoms of these illnesses overlap so professional help is important from an early stage to help with identifying the right management plan.


Depression is one of the most common factors in suicidal thoughts. Not everyone with depression will think about suicide, but statistically as a group, they are at higher risk for suicide.

However, depression is a treatable condition that most people can recover from or find ways to manage.

Someone who is experiencing depression is likely to have a persistent low mood, they may feel overwhelmed, have trouble sleeping or feel tired.

Many people have experienced low points or feelings of sadness, but when these feelings become severe and ongoing, it is important to seek professional help and support.

Learn more on our depression page

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterised by feelings of extreme highs or lows, or ‘mood swings’.

Everybody experiences a range of moods depending on their circumstances, but a person with bipolar disorder will experience extreme moods – being very high and over-excited to feeling low, depressed and helpless. Some people experience mostly the highs, some experience mostly the lows and others experience both.

When someone is experiencing the extreme lows of a depressed episode, this becomes a risk factor for suicide.

Learn more on our page other mental health disorders

Hopelessness and helplessness

Feelings of hopelessness happen when pressures build up to the point where there don’t seem to be any answers.  This state of mind can lead to suicide being considered as a way out.

People with depression or bipolar disorder often experience a sense of hopelessness where everything feels overwhelming and difficult. They may also feel unmotivated or experience little joy when doing things they once enjoyed.

It is important to understand that there are many other solutions and that positive outcomes are possible.


Anxiety can take on many forms but is characterised by excessive worrying that can become debilitating and can have an impact on a person’s day to day life.

There are a number of anxiety disorders that include:

  • posttraumatic stress disorder
  • generalised anxiety disorder
  • social anxiety disorder
  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • phobias

It is important to address anxiety with professional support to instigate a sense of hope and relief from the symptoms.

Learn more on our anxiety page.


When somebody experiences psychosis there is a loss of contact with reality. A person may experience unusual thoughts and feelings, they may be confused or they may have delusional thoughts. No experience is the same.

It can be brought on by a stressful event and most people make a full recovery, but it does become a risk factor for suicide if symptoms continue.

Trauma and its effects

Trauma is any impact or damage to the neurological, physical, psychological and social aspects of a whole person.

Traumatic experiences can include anything from a person witnessing a violent event or accident, being directly involved in an accident or being harmed by something or someone.

Trauma from such events can then be a precursor to someone developing a mental illness, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is characterised as someone re-living a traumatic experience and the feelings from that experience. This can be triggered by smells, sounds, feelings or visual cues.

Not all individuals exposed to a traumatic event will develop a mental illness or need professional help, many people recover with the help and support of their family and friends. But for some it can have a profound and long-lasting impact, and this can become a risk factor for suicide.

It is important for ex-service personnel to be aware of the possible effect of trauma on their lives and on the lives of those around them. PTSD is treatable and most people do recover, but early intervention is vital. Professional support is the first step towards sustained recovery.

Learn more on our trauma page.

When a child’s parent has PTSD

PTSD can also have damaging effects on the family and friends of a person with PTSD as a parent with PTSD has to contend with a range of symptoms that are both frightening and exhausting.

Children may not understand what is happening or why, and they may start to worry about their parent’s well-being or that their parent cannot properly care for them.

This can then impact their own emotional wellbeing, their behaviour and increase the likelihood for developing a mental illness, which is a risk factor for suicide.

It is important for ex-service personnel to be aware of the impact of their PTSD on their family and friends and the increased risks not just to themselves but to others they care for and love.  Seeking professional help is the first step to recovery.

See also

  • women drinking beer

    Circumstantial risk factors

    Circumstantial factors may not be significant, but when combined with causal factors they increase the potential risk of suicide.
  • someone else affected

    Protective factors

    There are many factors in our lives that can help to protect us and others against suicide.