Suicide risk factors

Updated: 22 September 2013

What's Important To Us

The children and young people that we work with are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society to suicide. Knowing the risk factors, triggers and indicators of suicide reminds us to be vigilant to this risk when assessing the safety of a child or young person.

This key information provides information to assist in the screening and identification of suicide risk in the children and young people that we are working with. It identifies potential immediate risk factors, behavioural warning signs and current and background risk areas.

Young people who fit a number of the categories below are of the highest risk.

Whenever possible, supportive family/whānau and caregivers (as relevant) must be involved in the process of assessment and intervention. They must be interviewed to provide information for assessment purposes, informed of risk factors identified, and engaged in planning and support for the child or young person. Their role in the ongoing work with the child or young person needs to be explicit.

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Responding to suicide risk

Because children and young people who are known to Child Youth and Family often have a complex mix of issues, we need to be vigilant and responsive to potential suicide risk. The following information is useful as a reminder of the risk factors for suicidality (bold type indicates higher risk). It is not a checklist as other factors, events and characteristics may be significant in individual cases.

These question prompts give more details about questions you can ask when talking with children and young people who are at risk of suicide.

Revised suicide risk tool - Question prompt examples (DOC 50 KB)

Immediate risks

  • Exposure to stress and adversity
  • Argument with boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Loss or death of significant other or significant relationship
  • Transition including in and out of residence, between youth justice and care and protection, and leaving Oranga Tamariki care
  • School-related problems e.g. exclusions, chronic truanting, taunting or humiliation from peers
  • Youth justice involvement
  • Incarceration/loss of freedom
  • Proximity to suicide by family/whānau, peers
  • Anniversary of another death/suicide (or other distressing event)
  • Loss of agency input
  • Intrapersonal issues e.g. sexuality, morality
  • Anxiety/fear regarding anticipated/perceived loss, failure, disapproval, reprimand, shame
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Unexpected disappointment
  • Severe illness/disability
  • Initiation or discontinuation of psychotropic medication
  • Loss of job.

Behavioural warning signs

  • Putting affairs in order e.g. making a will
  • Suicidal ideation, threats to die by suicide
  • Impulsive, reckless, aggressive behaviour
  • Homicidal ideation
  • Intoxication
  • Self-neglect
  • Social withdrawal
  • Giving away personal possessions
  • Seeking conflict
  • Sudden improvement in mood
  • Preoccupation with themes of death.

Suicide plan

  • Specific plan e.g. knows when, where, how
  • Access to means – does the child or young person have access to their planned method for death by suicide?
  • Lethality of plan – how likely is method to succeed?

Background risks

  • Family history of mental illness and/or suicidal behaviours
  • Death of a friend or family member - especially by suicide
  • History of stress or adversity e.g. physical or sexual abuse
  • Criminal justice/offending history
  • Personality and coping style e.g. impulsive, compulsive, perfectionist
  • Social and demographic factors e.g. lower socio economic and educational achievement, young Māori female.

Current risks

Dysfunctional coping styles

  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Alcohol and/or drug use and abuse
  • Self harming behaviours
  • Risky and antisocial behaviours
  • Poor communication and decision-making skills
  • Poor impulse control
  • Non-compliance with medication or agency involvement

Psychological distress

  • Depressed mood and associated symptoms of depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Psychiatric illness including command hallucinations to suicide
  • Rage/jealousy
  • Intrapersonal issues e.g. unresolved grief, sexuality, shame
  • Perceived loss of control or persecution
  • Intense self-loathing/criticism

Abusive/inadequate social networks

  • Lack of supportive peer networks
  • Difficulties at school
  • Conflictual or abusive home environment
  • Unstable living arrangement or relationship
  • Isolation or alienation from friends and/or family/whānau
  • Inadequate supervision.