What Is Suicide? - Definition, Triggers, Underlying Causes & Prevention

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  • 0:05 Suicide
  • 0:53 Reasons
  • 2:21 Triggers
  • 3:41 Prevention
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Why would a person take their own life? And what can be done to prevent it? In this lesson, we'll look at the reasons for, triggers of, and prevention of suicide.


Warren is in a dangerous situation. He's been feeling depressed for a while, but recently things have gotten worse. He's lost his job, and his family is at risk of losing their home to foreclosure. He thinks that his family might be better off if he's dead, and they can collect the insurance money. More and more, he thinks about killing himself.

Suicide is the act of taking one's own life. In 2010, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death for Americans, with over 38,000 reported suicides. Many of the people who commit suicide suffer from a mood disorder or other psychological disorder. Let's look closer at the reasons, triggers, and prevention of suicide.


There are many reasons that people commit suicide. Five common reasons include:

  1. Depression is a common problem for suicidal people. Though there are treatments for depression, when left untreated, it can be a significant issue that can lead to suicide. Remember that Warren has been suffering from depression for a while now. This could be a driving factor behind his suicidal thoughts.
  2. Psychotic thoughts, like hearing voices, can also be a reason for suicide. For this reason, patients of psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia, are at a higher risk than the general population for suicide.
  3. Impulsivity can also lead to suicide. A person who has low impulse control might make decisions when feeling temporarily low or when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This could lead to impulsively committing suicide.
  4. A cry for help is another common reason for suicide. People who are crying out for help don't actually want to die, but attempted suicide is the only way they know how to ask for help. Unfortunately, attempted suicide as a cry for help can sometimes backfire, leading to actual suicide.
  5. Terminal illness can sometimes lead people to make a rational decision to take their own lives, as opposed to slowly and painfully dying of an illness.


As we've seen, there are many reasons for suicide. There are also many risk factors, or triggers, that can lead to suicide.

Let's go back to Warren. He's depressed, which is both a cause and a trigger of suicide. In fact, one of the main risk factors for suicide is a mental disorder. Whether it's depression or schizophrenia, having a psychological disorder significantly raises the risk that a person will commit suicide.

Warren is also feeling hopeless. He's lost his job, and his home is about to be foreclosed. He doesn't know how he'll pay the bills or provide for his family. Hopelessness is another trigger for suicide. Warren doesn't really talk to his wife about his depression or his thoughts of suicide. He feels like it's unmanly and that he needs to hide it. He's isolating himself, and isolation, too, is a risk factor. People who have few friends or aren't able to talk to their friends or loved ones are at a higher risk for suicide.

A stressful life event, like the fact that Warren has lost his job or the fact that he might lose his home, is another trigger for suicide. Other triggers include substance abuse, a family history of mental illness or suicide, and previous suicide attempts.


Warren is at a serious moment in his life. Suicidal thoughts are not to be taken lightly. But what can he do? What can his wife and other loved ones do to help prevent Warren from taking his own life?

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