Why do people take their own life by suicide?

It is difficult to imagine what led a friend, a family member or celebrity to take their own life by suicide. Sometimes there is no clear warning signs, and you may wonder what clues you may have missed. In many cases, many different circumstances combine to lead a person to take their own life.

Mental illness

While there are many circumstances that lead a person to take their own life by suicide, the most common one is severe depression. Depression affects a majority of the population, and it can cause those suffering from it feel great emotional pain and loss of hope, making them unable to see other ways of ending their pain rather than by suicide.

Depression is present in about half of all suicides

Other mental illnesses that can increase the risk of suicide include:

  1. Bipolar disorder
  2. Borderline personality disorder
  3. Schizophrenia

Traumatic stress

A person who has had a traumatic experience, including childhood sexual abuse, rape, physical abuse or war trauma, is at a greater risk for suicide.

Being diagnosed by a psychologist with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or multiple incidents of trauma raises the risk of suicide even more. This is also because depression is common after trauma and among those with PTSD. And as we have seen, depression can lead to hopelessness, which can eventually lead to suicide.

Substance use and impulsivity

When drugs and alcohol are used by someone who is having suicidal thoughts, they can influence him/her to take action and take their own life, which is probably something they wouldn’t do while sober.

In most cases, people suffering from depression, extreme stress or other psychological disorders use alcohol and drugs to cope. This is usually referred to as self-medicating, and it is not a very good way to cope with life’s challenges or a mental illness. if someone who is suffering from suicidal thoughts decides to indulge in alcohol or drugs, they increase the risk of acting on their suicidal thoughts.

Loss or fear of loss

A person may decide to take their own life when facing a loss, or when they fear that they will have a loss in the future. These situations can include:

  • Failure in studies
  • Being arrested or imprisoned
  • Being bullied, humiliated, including cyberbullying on social media
  • Financial problems
  • End of a close relationship or marriage
  • Loss of a job


Being hopeless has been found to contribute to the decision to take one’s life. A person facing a social, economic or physical challenge may see like there is no way for their situation to improve.

  • When people feel like they have lost all hope and feel that they cannot change their situation, they can fail to recognize all the good things in life, which makes suicide seem like the only option to take.

One of the characteristics of depression is pessimism and despair, which makes a depressed person think that things will never get better.

Chronic pain and illness

If a person is suffering from chronic pain or illness (e.g., cancer, asthma, HIV/AIDS), and there is no hope for a cure, suicide may seem like a way to regain dignity and control over their life. In some countries, assisted suicide is legal for this reason.

Chronic pain and illness can also bring depression and anxiety, which only increases the risk for suicide.

Feeling like a burden to others

A person with chronic pain or a terminal illness (e.g., cancer) can also feel like a burden to others, as it becomes harder and harder to ask for more help with household duties or assistance paying for hospital bills. In fact, many people who decide to take their own life by suicide often state that their loved ones or the world, in general, would be better off without them.

When someone says that they feel that they are a burden to others, and that the world would be better off without them, this is a warning sign that they are thinking of suicide.


Social isolation

A person can become socially isolated for many reasons, including:

  • losing friends or a spouse
  • undergoing divorce
  • physical or mental illness
  • social anxiety
  • retirement
  • move to a new location.
  • Quarantine due to covid-19

Social isolation can lead to loneliness and other risk factors of suicide such as depression and alcohol or drug misuse. Please check on your friends and family especially during this time of the pandemic to ensure that they are not isolated.

Accidental suicide

Some situations that appear to be suicide may actually be an accidental death. Accidental suicides include unintentional overdoses of medications, carbon monoxide poisoning from fumes from jikos, and poisoning.

You may never know why a person took their own life by suicide. While it might have appeared that someone had everything to live for, it probably didn't feel that way to them.


If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact Befrienders Kenya at +254722178177 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, report to the nearest hospital or call 999.