STRESS is a major risk factor for suicide

Suicide is top of mind for many with the passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

The “last person in the world” you’d expect to do that. “They had everything.”

Again, I have no insight into either of their lives. I DO have insight into suicide in healers and change agents (i.e. entrepreneurs) with stress &/or burnout.

Let’s dispel the dangerous and damaging assumption that suicide always results from mental illness. LESS THAN HALF of deaths from suicide–only 46%– are in people with known mental health issues. While I’m sure undiagnosed mental illness plays a role in many other suicides, the other risk factors for suicide are essentially “just stress”.

Let me repeat that: STRESS is a major risk factor for suicide.

Here’s how the non-mental illness risk factors for suicide break down (adapted from

  • Stress
    • Prolonged stress
    • History of trauma or abuse
    • Serious or chronic medical illness
    • Isolation
    • Agitation and sleep deprivation
    • Recent tragedy or loss
  • Self-medicating stress and untreated trauma
    • Intoxication
    • Substance abuse
  • Demographics
    • Age under 24 or over 65
    • Gender (more women than men attempt, while men are 4 times more likely to die)
    • Family history of suicide (arguably also an epigenetic stress)
  • Access
    • Access to firearms

I am grateful and delighted that people are talking about mental health more, which helps everyone and reduces the stigma attached. What I am dismayed with is that in general people equate suicide with mental health exclusively.

Doing so risks the lives of those who are stressed but appear to be “handling it well”. The more strong and successful the person with stress-related suicidal thoughts appears, the less likely they are to receive the support required.

Stress kills. Sometimes slowly by creating multiple health problems, and sometimes relatively quickly through suicide.

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