Risk & Protective Factors

Risk Factors

Risk factors are long standing conditions, stressful events, or situations that may increase the likelihood of a suicide attempt or death. The following lists are representative of information found in suicide literature. While no list is all-inclusive, those included below serve to summarize an enormous amount of information.

Risk factors do not cause suicide, but when many factors are present, these may increase an individual's vulnerability.

Family Risk Factors

  • Family history of suicide (especially a parent)
  • Changes in family structure through death, divorce, re-marriage, etc.
  • Family involvement in alcoholism
  • Lack of strong bonding/attachment within the family, withdrawal of support
  • Unrealistic parental expectations
  • Violent, destructive parent-child interactions
  • Inconsistent, unpredictable parental behavior
  • Depressed, suicidal parents
  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse

Behavioral Risk Factors

  • One or more prior suicide attempt(s)
  • Alcohol/drug abuse
  • Aggression/rage/defiance
  • Running away
  • School failure, truancy
  • Fascination with death, violence, Satanism

Environmental Risk Factors

  • Access to lethal means
  • Frequent mobility
  • Religious conflicts
  • Social isolation/alienation or turmoil
  • Exposure to a suicide of a peer
  • Anniversary of someone else’s suicide
  • Incarceration/loss of freedom
  • High levels of stress; pressure to succeed
  • Over-exposure to violence in mass media

Personal Risk Factors

Mental illness/psychiatric conditions such as Depression, Bipolar,  Conduct and Anxiety disorders)

  • Poor impulse control
  • Confusion/conflict about sexual identity
  • Loss of significant relationships
  • Compulsive, extreme perfectionism
  • Lack skills to manage decision-making, conflict, anger, problem solving, distress, etc.
  • Loss (or perceived loss) of identity, status
  • Feeling powerless, hopeless, helpless
  • Victim of sexual abuse
  • Pregnancy or fear of pregnancy
  • Fear of humiliation

Protective Factors

Protective Factors are the positive conditions, personal and social resources that promote resiliency and reduce the potential for youth suicide as well as other related high-risk behaviors.  Just as suicide risks rise from an interaction between familial, genetic, and environmental factors, so do protective factors.  They help keep risk factors from becoming overwhelming.

  • Dominant attitudes, values, and norms prohibiting suicide, including strong beliefs about the meaning and value of life
  • Life skills (i.e., decision-making, problem-solving, anger management, conflict management, and social skills)
  • Good health, access to health care
  • Best friends, supportive significant others
  • Religious/spiritual beliefs
  • A healthy fear of risky behavior, pain
  • Hope for the future
  • Sobriety
  • Medical compliance
  • Good impulse control
  • Strong sense of self-worth
  • A sense of personal control
  • Strong interpersonal bonds, particularly with family members and other caring adults
  • Opportunities to participate in and contribute to school and/or community projects/activities
  • A reasonably safe, stable environment
  • Difficult access to lethal means
  • Responsibilities/duties to others
  • Pets