The Role of Impulsivity in Suicide Risk

Among those most likely to attempt suicide, scientific research has identified impulsivity as a strongly correlated factor. 

impulsivity and suicide

Impulsive behavior can range from poor decision-making to a clinical level of impulse control disorder. When combined with depression, bipolar disorder or other mood disorders, the combination can be lethal to those who have suicidal ideations

How Impulsive Behavior Increases Suicide Risk 

Higher-order control functions in the brain govern our ability to make decisions. When those controls falter, poor decision-making and impulsive behavior are the results. 

The inability to make appropriate decisions impairs problem-solving skills, leading to an increased level of emotional stress. This type of stress leads, in turn, to a variety of self-harming behaviors that include substance abuse, self-mutilation (i.e., cutting) and suicidal ideations. 

Those who exhibit the highest degree of impulsivity are those who are most likely to elevate suicidal ideations to action. 

Is Suicide Truly Foreseeable? 

Suicide prevention experts tell us that most people who attempt to take their lives exhibit warning signs. Unfortunately, unless you are a mental health professional, these signs may not be evident. 

Evidence of impulsive behavior, however, can be much easier to detect. And for those who suffer from depression, specific impulsivity signs should raise a red flag. 

Among these signs and symptoms, the most easily recognized are nervous behaviors, agitation and manic states. But even seemingly unrelated behavior — reckless driving, excessive gambling or promiscuity, for example — can also signal a potential suicide risk. 

Impulsivity and Suicide Prevention 

It’s important to understand that few individuals who display impulsive behavior patterns will attempt suicide. Of those who do attempt to take their own lives, however, a preponderance of them will be inclined to display impulsivity. 

Experts tell us that those with impulse control issues don’t simply attempt suicide on a whim. In fact, they almost always have a plan. The difference, however, is that impulsivity can bring that plan to fruition much more quickly. 

Understanding the nature and implications of impulsive behavior patterns can potentially help you — or someone you care about — avoid a suicide attempt. This is especially true when co-morbid mental illness or mood disorders are present. Other exacerbating risk factors include family history of suicide, fearlessness, sensation-seeking behaviors, pain and hopelessness. 

The American Association of Suicidology has prepared a brief checklist of suicide risk factors. Taking a moment to review this information could help save a life. 

Justin Peck, successful entrepreneur and off-road racer, miraculously survived a suicide attempt after battling depression and bipolar disorder for much of his life. His inspirational new autobiography, Bulletproof, provides a wealth of insight into the challenges posed by mental illness. Order your copy today to learn more about how Justin overcame his bipolar disorder to become a powerful mental health advocate.