Stressful Life Events and Suicide


There are a number of factors that can lead a person to contemplate suicide. Plans for suicide are often put in motion following intense life-altering events. These events cause great stress in people but if a person is particularly vulnerable or already dealing with a mental health issue such as depression, they can be the trigger that pushes them to, in their incorrect way of thinking, find a way to stop the pain and follow through on a plan to take their own life. It is their inability to cope with these events that lead to suicide. Events that lead to suicide are called triggering events. Although they contribute to the suicide, they are not exclusively the cause.

These are events that are accompanied by drastic changes in the person’s life – usually events that are characterized by trauma or loss, failure in marriages, in career or in money, or the absence of motivators in their life. Although not an event, clinical depression can and does lead to suicide. It is the leading cause of suicide, and often comes after triggering events occur.


Physical trauma such as a disabling injury from an accident or the ravages of a disease can give rise to feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, and uselessness in some individuals. The inability to deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or trauma from recent or past events such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, or emotional abuse (bullying and harassment) can also have a severely negative impact on a person’s life.


Loss of a loved one through death, moving to another location, or the failure of a marriage can lead to feelings of depression. Some losses feel absolutely insurmountable (such as the death of a child, spouse or even a pet) and can lead to feelings of despair and intense sadness. Even the loss of a job can give rise to the same feelings.


Failing to pass an exam or make good grades is a common stressor for older students – particularly post-secondary students who may be facing unrealistic pressure to perform and not disappoint their parents or tarnish their family reputation. Fear of ridicule and shame of not reaching a particular goal especially if expectations are large may lead some to feel unworthy, isolated and facing alienation from their family or even colleagues.


Whenever someone has to keep their authentic selves secret – especially in the case of their sexual orientation or gender identity, they experience “cognitive dissonance” (the tensions that’s created when your behaviors and values aren’t aligned). People in this situations can be dealing with severe internal stress of feeling like a fraud versus the risk of rejection from their parents or siblings, and expulsion and extended family, and friends, as well as dangerous discrimination from employers, landlords, and sadly, the general public, if they were to “come out” or be truthful about their gender identity.


Monitoring is the most important way to prevent depression. People who are prone to depression should be monitored after a stressful event. Watch out for:

  • Changes in demeanour or in everyday activities (lack of sleep, excessive sleep, under or overeating, .
  • Lack of a motivation to resume normal living patterns. (Avoiding friends, family, social gatherings, absenteeism at work)
  • Changes in how the person cares for themselves (lack of personal hygiene)
  • Self-destructive behaviours (increased or excessive alcohol or drug use, driving recklessly, taking unnecessary risks)
  • Preparations for suicide (getting their affairs in order, giving away some of their personal possessions, or obtaining prescriptions or purchasing a gun))
  • Talking about suicide

Some (but not all) people often send cues that they are thinking about suicide and all these signals should be taken seriously. Continuing treatment and monitoring is required for people who are thinking about suicide especially if they have attempted suicide before.


There are cases when a friend or family member talks about attempting suicide. In some cases, this may be delivered in a flippant, nonchalant way – but all verbal indications of suicide should be taken seriously. Sit the person down when this happens and listen to them. Ask them these questions gently:

  • You don’t seem like your usual self and I’m concerned about you – how are you dealing with what’s going on in your life right now?
  • I know you’ve been through a tough time lately and I’m worried about you – are you thinking about harming yourself or suicide?
  • If so, have you thought about how or when you’d do it?
  • Do you have access to weapons or anything that can be used to harm yourself?


Asking people about suicidal thoughts won’t give them the idea to follow through with suicide. Instead, it could be an opportunity to talk about their feelings which could reduce the risk of them acting on suicidal feelings.

It is also important to tell the person why they are important to you. Depressed people often feel that their life is meaningless. Let the person know how important their life is to you, and how their life brings meaning to your life. Avoid being critical, saying things like “I don’t like it when you talk like that” or judgmental by saying things like “You have such a great life, you have nothing to be depressed about”. These kinds of statements will shut down the conversation and prevent you from hearing out what the person wants to say. Listen to a person if they start talking about suicide and refer them to a psychologist or a psychiatrist for treatment or call 911 if they are in immediate danger of harming themselves and don’t leave them alone.


  • Edmonton: The Crisis Centre call 780 482 HELP (4357)
  • Greater Edmonton region: Rural Distress Line at 1-800-232-7288.
  • Calgary: 403 266 HELP (4357)


If you believe someone may cause harm to themselves call 911 or proceed to your nearest emergency room. Mental health emergencies are legitimate emergencies and will be responded to.

Contact the team at Insight Psychological to learn more about how you can help yourself or someone you know who is struggling with thoughts of suicide.