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Depression is a major risk factor for suicide attempts and other suicidal behaviours.

  • Depression disproportionately affects women (Chaudron & Caine, 2004): they are two times more likely than men to suffer from depression.
  • Women are more likely than men to experience physical and mental health problems in addition to depression (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2013).
  • 70% of antidepressant prescriptions are given to women in the US.

Major depression is a psychiatric disorder that includes several symptoms. The two main symptoms are:

  • Having a depressed mood, this includes feeling worthless, thinking about death, and being overwhelmed by sadness.
  • Losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy.

Protective Factors

“Protective” factors can help prevent a woman from thinking about suicide.

  • Pregnancy
    • Women who are not pregnant die by suicide 2 times more often than those who are.
  • Motherhood and a strong maternal bond with children and other dependents
  • Willingness to seek help for emotional and mental heath issues
    • Women seek help far more often than men.
  • Support from family and friends
    • Women tend to rely more heavily on family and friends for support in times of crisis.
  • Choice of less lethal means of suicide
    • Women usually choose “less lethal means” like prescription drugs, when attempting suicide (but, as noted above, younger women are choosing more lethal means).

(Beautrais, 2006; Chauldron & Caine, 2004)

Risk Factors

When “risk” factors are present, women are at a higher risk for considering suicide.  

  • Postpartum depression (PPD)
    • PPD affects around 15% of women, and is experienced after giving birth and for up to one year after (Pearlstein, et al., 2009).
  • Perinatal period
    • The “perinatal period” is the time during pregnancy and the first year after the birth of a child.
    • In Ontario, suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in the perinatal period: 1 in 19 deaths of women during this period were due to suicide.
    • The majority of women who die during this period have an affective or anxiety-related disorder (as opposed to a psychotic disorder, like schizophrenia) (Grigoriadis, 2017).

  • Domestic violence
    • Partner violence can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is also a risk factor for suicide.
    • Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.
    • Women experience partner violence 9 times more often than men (Devries, et al., 2011).
  • Childhood sexual abuse
    • Sexual abuse in childhood is a major factor for future suicidal behaviour and can also be a source of PTSD.
    • Self-harm, substance abuse and high-risk behaviours (like unprotected sex) are some unhealthy strategies that women may use to cope during times of abuse.
    • Unhealthy coping strategies ultimately undermine feelings of self-worth, cause depression and put women at greater risk for suicide (Joiner, et al., 2007).
    • 1 in 5 women are victims of rape (attempted or completed, in childhood or adulthood) (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).
  • Eating disorders
    • Including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa
  • Body image issues
    • Body self-image issues can be caused by pressures to obtain unrealistic physical expectations.
    • Major surgery, such as a mastectomy, can cause body self-image issues to arise in women, and can precipitate depression (Wasserman, 2016)


Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research. (2012). Suicide/self-inflicted injuries in Alberta. Retrieved from tRgQ37n5s%3D&tabid=508

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2022). Suicide statistics.

Beautrais, A. (2006). Women and suicidal behavior. Crisis, 27(4), 153-156.

Canadian Mental Health Association (British Columbia). (2013). Depression. Retrieved from

Center for Disease Control and Research. (2012). Sexual violence: Facts at a glance. Retrieved from

Chaudron, L. and Caine, E. (2004). Suicide among women: A critical review. Women’s Health, 59(2):125-134.

Devries, K., Watts, C., Yoshihama, M., Kiss, L., et al. (2011). Violence against women is strongly associated with suicide attempts: Evidence from the WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women. Social Sciences & Medicine, 73(1), 79-86.

Grigoriadis, S., Wilton, A., Kurdyak, P., Rhodes, A., VonderPorten, E., Levitt, A., Cheung, A. & Vigod, S. (2017). Perinatal suicide in Ontarion, Canada: A 15-year population-based study. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 189(34). Retrieved from

Joiner, T., Sachs-Ericsson, N., Wingate, L., Brown, J., Anestis, M. & Selby, E. (2007). Childhood physical and sexual abuse and lifetime number of suicide attempts: A persistent and theoretically important relationship. Behavior Research and Therapy, 45(3), 539-547.

Pearlstein, T., Howard, M., Salisbury, A. & Zlonsky, C. (2009). Postpartum depression. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 200(4), 357-364.

Skinner, R. and McFaul, S. (2012). Suicide among children and adolescents in Canada: trends and sex differences, 1980–2008. Canadian Medical Association Journal, doi: 10.1503/ cmaj.111867. Retrieved from http:// cmaj.111867.full.pdf+html82-285

Statistics Canada. (2017). Suicides and suicide rate, by sex and by age group. Retrieved from

Wasserman, D. (2016). Eating disorders and suicide. In Wasserman, D. (ed), Suicide: An unnecessary death (pp.95-100). New York: Oxford University Press.

Related Links

The Women’s Centre, Calgary

Canadian Mental Health Association

Kids Help Phone

Canadian Women’s Foundation

Canadian Coalition for Seniors Mental Health

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