All too often we hear about a famous musician, comedian or actor who has taken their own life. It leaves us upset and confused, wondering why these admired stars – who seemed to have had the perfect life – could make that decision.

The reasons that people take their own lives are often very complex. However, there are various risk factors that can influence whether someone is likely to be suicidal.

Suicide risk factors

  • Previous suicide attempts
  • History of substance abuse
  • Severe physical disability or illness
  • Relationship problems
  • Access to harmful means
  • Losing a friend or family member to suicide
  • History of a mental health condition
  • Ongoing exposure to bullying behaviour
  • Recent death of a family member or close friend

Experiencing these things doesn’t necessarily mean someone will think about suicide. While mental health conditions are risk factors for suicide, many people living with anxiety or depression aren’t suicidal, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental health condition. Still, it’s important to remember that anxiety and depression don’t discriminate. They’re conditions that can be experienced by anyone at any time.

Having thoughts of suicide essentially points to some form of deep unhappiness. A common misconception about suicide is that your life must be bad for you to want to take such an action. But it’s really the perceived hopelessness that matters to the person more than any outside opinion. People having suicidal thoughts may jump to the conclusion that other people are living a happy and meaningful life, while they themselves are inadequate. Research has identified that suicide rates are higher in countries with high rates of wealth and university-education. Some researchers have argued that this heightens suicide risk because people in these places often create unreasonable standards for personal happiness. So, when these people inevitably go through some trying times, they find it harder to cope with setbacks.

Many celebrities will go through a period of almost universal adoration in the peak of their career – and when the bar is set this high, they have a long way to fall. It’s this period of perceived career decline or failure where celebrities can find it hard to cope and where risk factors for suicide can multiply – while protective factors (such as strong connections with friends and family) can break down. This can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, failed relationships, scandal, financial troubles, and can ultimately trigger underlying mental health issues. This constant and unforgiving comparison with a happier past or a goal that is now seen as impossible to achieve may fuel suicidal thoughts.

While you might not be close enough to your idol to support them through tough times, you can help those people close to you. If a person you know seems to be finding it difficult to cope, reach out and connect with them. You might be worried that you will put the idea of suicide into a person’s head if you ask about suicide. However, you cannot make a person suicidal by showing your concern. In fact, giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings can give relief from isolation and pent-up negative feelings.

For more advice head to our page on having a conversation with someone you’re worried about.

Lifeline provide crisis support and suicide prevention services – they can be contacted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 13 11 14. There is also the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and the Beyond Blue Support Service which can be contacted on 1300 224 636. If you think someone is in immediate danger, call emergency services on 000 and stay with them until help arrives. 

Related reading: What to do if someone you know is suicidal

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