Life events and suicidal ideation and behavior: a systematic review

Clin Psychol Rev. 2014 Apr;34(3):181-92. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2014.01.006. Epub 2014 Feb 4.


Despite the sustained theoretical and empirical interest over the past 40years in the association between life events and suicidal ideation and behavior, the literature in this area has yet to be systematically reviewed. The current article provides a comprehensive review of the empirical literature pertaining to life events in relation to at least one aspect of suicidal ideation and behavior (i.e., suicidal ideation, plans, attempts, degree of suicidal intent, medical severity of attempt, repeat versus first lifetime attempt status, and death by suicide). A total of 95 articles meeting inclusion criteria were identified by a literature search using Medline and PsycINFO. Evidence for an association between negative life events and suicidal ideation and behavior was generally consistent, with strongest support found for more severe than with less severe forms of suicidal ideation and behavior. Support for an inverse relation between positive events and suicidal ideation and behavior was generally lacking. Although there is general support for life stressors as a risk factor for suicidal ideation and behavior, interpretation of these findings is constrained by methodological limitations prevalent in much of the literature, particularly in the case of suicidal ideation and suicide plans. Recommendations for future research are provided.

Keywords: Positive life events; Self-harm; Stressful life events; Suicide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology