Risk/Protective Factors

Suicide is complex, and there are a number of biological, psychological and social factors that place certain youth at risk for suicide. Students considering death by suicide are in a significant amount of psychological pain. This pain is the result of not just one single event but of many intersecting factors that create a sense of hopelessness that makes ending one’s life an option.1Preventing suicide: a global imperative is a 2014 report by the World Health Organization

Risk and protective factors

The presence of risk factors can make it more likely that a student will consider, attempt, or die by suicide. Protective factors are individual and social factors and experiences that help to build resiliency and thus reduce the risk of suicide.2White, J. (2013). Preventing Youth Suicide: A Guide for Practitioners. British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development. Retrieved from: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/health/managing-your-health/mental-health-substance-use/child-teen-mental-health/preventing_youth_suicide_practitioners_guide.pdf

Understanding risk and protective factors for suicide can help communities plan suicide prevention efforts using both universal (whole population) and selective (specific population) approaches.3Preventing suicide: a global imperative is a 2014 report by the World Health Organization

Both risk and protective factors can be individual in nature (e.g. personality traits, mental disorders, genetic predisposition) or derived from family (e.g. cohesion, dysfunction) or community contexts (e.g. availability of mental health services). Many of these factors can change or shift over time (e.g. effective treatment for mental health challenge), while others cannot (e.g. a family history of suicide).4Suicide Prevention Resource Center, & Rodgers, P. (2011). Understanding risk and protective factors for suicide: A primer for preventing suicide. Retrieved from: https://www.sprc.org/sites/default/files/migrate/library/RiskProtectiveFactorsPrimer.pdf

Major risk factors for suicide5Suicide Prevention Resource Center, & Rodgers, P. (2011). Understanding risk and protective factors for suicide: A primer for preventing suicide. Retrieved from: https://www.sprc.org/sites/default/files/migrate/library/RiskProtectiveFactorsPrimer.pdf

  • previous suicide attempt
  • mental health challenge (depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia)
  • substance use
  • family history of suicide
  • access to lethal means

Major protective factors for suicide6Suicide Prevention Resource Center, & Rodgers, P. (2011). Understanding risk and protective factors for suicide: A primer for preventing suicide. Retrieved from: https://www.sprc.org/sites/default/files/migrate/library/RiskProtectiveFactorsPrimer.pdf

  • accessible and effective mental health care
  • a sense of connectedness or belonging to something bigger than self, like campus community, cultural or religious group, team
  • effective coping and problem-solving skills
  • strong positive relationships that enable one to feel secure and supported

Individual risk and protective factors have varying degrees of influence on overall risk for death by suicide, with some being more significant than others. High risk for suicide is most often found when there are multiple risk factors and few protective factors present.7Suicide Prevention Resource Center, & Rodgers, P. (2011). Understanding risk and protective factors for suicide: A primer for preventing suicide. Retrieved from: https://www.sprc.org/sites/default/files/migrate/library/RiskProtectiveFactorsPrimer.pdf

When considering individual students, it is important to focus on shifts and changes in their behaviour, as well as their reactions and responses to the environment. Whether risk factors are present or not, death by suicide can happen impulsively when life circumstances such as loss, rejection, isolation, chronic pain or illness create a crisis in a student’s life that is overwhelming.8http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs398/en/

 

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1, 3. Preventing suicide: a global imperative is a 2014 report by the World Health Organization
2. White, J. (2013). Preventing Youth Suicide: A Guide for Practitioners. British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development. Retrieved from: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/health/managing-your-health/mental-health-substance-use/child-teen-mental-health/preventing_youth_suicide_practitioners_guide.pdf
4, 5, 6, 7. Suicide Prevention Resource Center, & Rodgers, P. (2011). Understanding risk and protective factors for suicide: A primer for preventing suicide. Retrieved from: https://www.sprc.org/sites/default/files/migrate/library/RiskProtectiveFactorsPrimer.pdf
8. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs398/en/
Suicide