Risk & Protective Factors

Risk & Protective Factors

Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families, and communities. While its causes are complex and determined by multiple factors, the goal of suicide prevention is simple: Reduce factors that increase risk (i.e. risk factors) and increase factors that promote resilience (i.e. protective factors). Ideally, prevention addresses all levels of influence: individual, relationship, community, and societal. Effective prevention strategies are needed to promote awareness of suicide and encourage a commitment to social change (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Risk Factors for Suicide

A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of suicide. Risk factors are those characteristics associated with suicide—they may or may not be direct causes.

Risk Factors

  • Family history of suicide
  • Family history of child abuse or neglect
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • History of mental health disorders, especially clinical depression
  • History of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Impulsiveness or aggression
  • Cultural and religious beliefs (e.g., belief that suicide is noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
  • Local epidemics of suicide
  • Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people
  • Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
  • Loss (relationship, financial, job)
  • Physical illness
  • Easy access to lethal methods such as guns
  • Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts

Protective Factors for Suicide

Protective factors buffer individuals from suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Protective factors have not been studied as extensively or rigorously as risk factors. Identifying and understanding protective factors are, however, equally as important as researching risk factors related to suicide.

  • Effective clinical care for mental health, physical, and substance abuse disorders
  • Easy access to a variety of clinical interventions and support for help seeking
  • Family and community support (connectedness)
  • Support from ongoing medical and mental healthcare relationships
  • Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent ways of handling disputes
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation

(from U.S. Public Health Service, 1999)