“Suicidal tendencies” is a term that people sometimes use to describe someone who may be “at risk of suicide.” However, it is not a correct term, as suicide is not a characteristic that a person would have a “tendency toward.”
Someone who is at risk of suicide may be experiencing suicidal thoughts. These can range from vague thoughts of not wanting to exist anymore to being intentional about planning a way to end one’s own life.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.
A growing amount of scientific evidence suggests that there may be a genetic link associated with suicide.
A 2012 meta-analysis examined people with a psychiatric diagnosis and noted that those with a certain gene variation had a greater risk of suicidal behavior.
Family studies also suggest some genetic involvement. Researchers who reviewed studies that explored this link highlighted an array of evidence suggesting that relatives of people who have attempted or died by suicide may be at a greater risk of death by suicide than relatives of those who have not.
However, what places a person at risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior is multifaceted. It likely involves an interaction among genetic factors, learned behaviors, and personal circumstances.
That said, it is extremely important to note that if a person has a family member who dies by suicide, it absolutely does not mean that they will too. The data above are purely statistical, and mental health is a complex issue that reaches far beyond the limits of statistical data.
Aside from a family history of suicide, there are many other potential risk factors that may lead to suicidal behavior. Suicide is strongly linked to depression. However, it is important to note that there is rarely one single cause of suicide.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, risk factors for suicide may include:
A variety of health conditions can increase a person’s risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior. These include:
- mental health conditions
- aggressive behavior, mood swings, and difficulty maintaining relationships
- anxiety disorders
- bipolar disorder
- contact disorder
- problems with substance use
- severe physical health conditions, such as pain
- traumatic brain injury
External influences that can affect a person’s risk of suicide include:
- access to lethal objects, such as drugs or guns
- chronic stress, such as mobbing, harassment, or personal relationship difficulties
- misfortunes, including divorce, financial hardships, and unexpected life changes
- experience of someone’s suicide or witnessing distressing suicide descriptions
A person’s past experiences might put them at higher risk of suicide. For instance:
- having attempted suicide before
- having a family history of suicide
- having experienced abuse, trauma, or neglect in childhood
A range of protective factors can help people overcome suicidal thoughts. These are personal and environmental measures that can help individuals who are at a higher risk of suicidal behavior.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center provide a list of protective factors, which include:
- receiving quality behavioral healthcare-like therapy
- developing or maintaining positive relationships with friends, family, and community members
- acquiring new life abilities to become more resilient
- boosting self-respect and developing a sense of purpose or self-motivation
Stress and depression can be overwhelming for a person. If possible, they may wish to try the following:
- Socializing: Staying in touch with people can improve mood. It also means that there are people there to talk to when a person is feeling low.
- Being active: Exercise can improve mood. If a person is not used to exercising, they can try gentle walks.
- Limiting alcohol intake: People may use alcohol as a way to cope with their emotions. However, alcohol may amplify feelings of depression.
- Having a routine: Not having a routine can affect eating and sleeping patterns.
- Seeking help: Many support groups, therapists, psychiatrists, and counselors are available to provide help.
The National Institute of Mental Health provide a list of signs that a person may be considering suicide. These include:
- talking about wanting to end their own life
- speaking about feeling empty or despondent
- mentioning plans to take their own life
- talking about feeling shame or guilt
- feeling distressed
- avoiding the company of family and friends
- getting rid of significant belongings
However, some people may not show any noticeable signs.
If a person believes that someone they know is about to end their own life, they should call the emergency services. However, if a person is concerned that someone they know may have suicidal thoughts, but the threat does not seem immediate, they may consider doing the following:
- Asking: Consider asking them directly whether they have any intention of harming themselves.
- Listening: If a person is willing to talk about their suicidal thoughts and feelings, listen without judgment and avoid interrupting them.
- Talking: Assure them that suicidal feelings will pass with time, and encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional.
Seeing a doctor for mental health support is not a sign of weakness and can be the first step toward getting better.
A person should consider seeing a doctor if they regularly notice the following thoughts and behaviors in themselves:
- thinking about suicide
- planning to end their own life
- feeling hopeless or depressed
- feeling anxious
- engaging in intentional self-injurious behavior
In addition to providing emotional support, a doctor can prescribe medication and may refer a person to therapy.
“Suicidal tendencies” is not a medical term. It is an anecdotal way of saying that someone may be “at risk of suicide.”
There is rarely one cause or risk factor behind suicide or suicidal thoughts. However, someone being at risk of suicide is often heavily linked to depression.
There are numerous factors — from health to environment to personal history — that can all lead to a person being at risk of suicide.
If a person is having suicidal thoughts or considering taking their own life, they should seek emotional support from a healthcare professional, family member, or friend immediately.