Circumstantial risk factors

On their own, circumstantial factors may not often be a significant risk factor, but when combined with causal factors they increase the potential risk of suicide – that is they promote a ‘compounding’ effect and need to be managed.

Increased risk of suicide

Every person’s life is different and their circumstances are always changing and can be changed but there are some key circumstantial factors, when coupled with causal factors, that can significantly increase the risk of suicide. These are:

  • transition from military service
  • injury and disability
  • isolation
  • excessive alcohol use
  • loss of someone close
  • heightened arousal
  • risk taking
  • sudden changes

Transition from military service

Transition from military service is sometimes difficult. Changes have taken place, both at home and away, and returning is always a time of re-learning and requires patience.

Ex-service personnel need to understand that a return to civilian life has similar characteristics and time is needed to become attuned to a new way of life and new expectations.

Learn more about the common challenges in transition.

Injury and disability

Injuries and disabilities are a distressing consequence of war and peacekeeping deployment.

Coping with injury or disability in civilian life is more complex and sometimes results in feeling forgotten or marginalised.

It is important for ex-service personnel to access information and support.

Learn more about injuries and pain.


Use of alcohol is a part of the Australian culture and often an accepted part of a social occasion.  It becomes a problem and a risk for suicide when it is used at risky levels, or as self-medication.

Under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, individuals experience impaired judgement which affects decision making ― many individuals who attempt or complete suicide often have high levels of alcohol or other drugs in their systems.

Ex-service personnel and their families need to be aware of the risks to themselves and others associated with the misuse of alcohol.


Isolation can be physical (living in a remote area) or emotional (withdrawing from friends and family), either way it reduces the support around you and increases the risk of suicide.  This is particularly important if you are experiencing depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder.

For a healthier lifestyle, it is important to acknowledge the level of isolation in your life and explore ways of increasing social interaction.

Loss of someone close

The death of someone close is a significant loss and grieving is difficult. People may experience a range of emotions which can often include feelings of shock, confusion, anger, guilt and exhaustion.

The death of someone close, especially if they have died by suicide, can be a risk factor of suicide for grieving family and friends, so it is very important to have an understanding of the grieving process and to have access to professional emotional support.

Learn more about problematic grief.

Heightened arousal

Heightened arousal or, hyper-vigilance, is a state of being constantly alert due to higher levels of adrenalin and cortisol in the body.  It often follows an experience of trauma.

Heightened arousal can be linked with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and is also associated with increased risk taking and increased risk of suicide.

Risk taking

Risk taking should always be considered within the context in which it occurs. It is important to understand the changes involved in the move from military to civilian life and what risks are reasonable within your new context.

Risk taking can be a positive aspect of life, but it becomes a problem when risk taking begins to have a negative impact on health and wellbeing and can be life-threatening. Taking risks is often associated with heightened arousal and increases the chances of suicide.

Learn more about risk taking.

Next steps

The causal and circumstantial risk factors of suicide are serious, but they are not permanent.

Support and professional help are available for anybody experiencing mental health problems and it is possible to recover.

At times many of our circumstances may seem overwhelming and intractable, but life is not static and it is possible for our circumstances to change for the better.

See also

  • risk factors

    Causal risk factors

    Causal factors for suicide include different mental illnesses or symptoms of being mentally unwell.
  • someone else affected

    Protective factors

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