Is Suicide Genetic?

three people and a dna strand

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

Research indicates that there might be a genetic component to suicide. However, researchers are unsure of how much genetics affect suicidal behavior.

This article examines the latest scientific developments on how genetics affects suicidal behavior. 

Suicide Statistics

Suicide is a prevalent global condition. Each year, approximately 1.5 million people across the world commit suicide. Some studies estimate that 1.4% of all deaths are caused by suicide. Even with decades of research, scientists might never really understand suicidal behavior and its causes.

If you’ve been experiencing suicidal thoughts, it may help to know that you are not alone. It’s not uncommon to experience suicidal thoughts when living in high-stress situations or with mental conditions like depression.

In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death in people between the ages of 10 and 34 and the third leading cause of death in people between the ages of 35 and 44. Some research shows that around 90% of people who act on suicidal behavior may have some form of mental disorder during the time they committed suicide.

Suicide Risk: Is There a Genetic Component?

While it's not completely certain that genetics plays a role in suicide, some scientific evidence does support that there might be a link.

Genetics May Increase Your Suicide Risk

Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorder, alcohol use disorder, and PTSD (among many others disorders) has been linked to increased suicide risk. A family history of conditions like those could increase your risk of developing suicidal behavior.

It’s essential to remember that having a family history of these conditions doesn’t automatically mean that you that will show signs of suicidal behavior. It only means you are at higher risk than the average person.

If Your Loved One Dies By Suicide, Your Risk May Increase

For people with a family history of suicide, living through the pain of losing someone to suicide can lead to depression and further increase your risk of suicide. Additionally, the layer of stigma and shame attached to suicide can lead to further emotional pain.

Children of Parents With Bipolar Disorder May Experience Suicidal Ideation

A 2011-study examined the risk of suicide in children of parents with bipolar disorder (the parents exhibited suicidal behavior or thoughts), and researchers found that those children had at least a 33% increase in suicidal ideation if those children had also been exposed to some kind of hardship or trauma. 

Twins and Suicide

There have also been numerous twin studies carried out to confirm the link between suicide and genetics. In a 2006 study on the rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors amongst teenagers who are twins in the United States, researchers found a higher rate of suicide occurrence amongst identical twins as compared to non-identical twins. 

Other Risk Factors

Below are additional factors that increase suicide risk.

Environmental Factors Can Contribute to Suicide

Environmental factors can lead to an increased risk of suicide. Environmental factors may include:

  • Financial hardship
  • Relationship issues
  • Access to materials or weapons that are deadly
  • Lack of access to mental healthcare

Please note that these are not the only environmental factors that increase suicide risk.

Medications May Affect Suicide Risk

For those that are experiencing a mental health disorder, medication can often help alleviate symptoms. However, before being prescribed medication your doctor will carefully examine the pros and cons of taking medication.

While antidepressants may increase suicide risk in children and adolescents, not treating depression with antidepressants may also increase that risk to an even greater extent.Hypnotic medications may also increase suicide risk.

Additionally, some medications such as lithium, clozapine, and ketamine. Even though it's possible that antidepressants can lead to greater suicide risk, on a population level, antidepressants have been shown to decrease suicide risk. Antidepressants can reduce suicide risk.

It's important to remember that everyone reacts to medication differently. So one medication may be helpful to you and unhelpful to another person. After being prescribed medication, it's very important to report any side effects or suicidal thoughts while you're taking the medication. You might have to switch to another medication or take a different dose.

Substance Use and Suicide Risk

In a small study, researchers found that people with bipolar disorder who also had substance use disorder had a 39.5% risk of attempting suicide in comparison to people with bipolar disorder who didn’t have a substance use disorder (this group had a 23.8% rate of attempting suicide).


A 2018-paper noted that a mental health disorder alone is not what will necessarily increase suicide risk.Rather, a diathesis, which refers to someone's tendency to suffer from an illness, also contributes to a higher suicide risk. For example, if a person is more prone to experiencing suicidal ideation and also has a psychological disorder, suicide risk increases.

Can Specific Genes Increase Suicide Risk?

In a large 2020-study involving the study of DNA samples from more than 14,000 people, researchers identified about 22 genes that could increase the risk of suicide in people who carried them.

These genes can, of course, be passed down to children and other relatives. The researchers emphasized that genetics is only one of many factors that may put a person at risk of suicide. They found that people who had died of suicide also had a genetic predisposition for conditions such as depression and schizophrenia. 

At-Risk Does Not Mean That Suicide Is Inevitable

It's important to remember that if you have a higher suicide risk, that does not guarantee that you will show suicidal behavior. There are some protective factors that can help prevent suicide such as:

  • Learning healthy coping skills
  • Identifying reasons to live
  • Getting emotional support from loved ones
  • A sense of connection to loved ones and your community
  • Strong cultural ties

A Word From Verywell 

If you or someone you know is exhibiting suicidal behavior or ideation, getting them help as soon as possible is crucial. Although there’s evidence to support that you can be genetically predisposed to suicidal thoughts and behaviors, you can significantly reduce your risk of engaging in suicidal behaviors with the proper treatment and support

17 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.