Risk and Protective Factors

Suicide is a complex human behavior, with no single determining cause. The factors that affect the likelihood of a person attempting or dying by suicide are known as risk or protective factors, depending on whether they raise or lower the likelihood of suicidal behavior.

Major risk factors for suicide include:

  • Prior suicide attempt(s)
  • Mood disorders - depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, etc.
  • Substance abuse - alcohol, drugs, illegal or prescription overuse
  • Access to lethal means - guns, stockpiled pills, etc.
  • Risk is greater if behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a perceived painful event, loss or change.

Major protective factors include:

  • Effective mental health care - having someone to talk to in a time of crisis, a teacher, clergy, a parent, guardian, best friend, sibling, counselor, or other trusted advisor or friend
  • Connectedness - being part of a family, group, or supportive team in school and/or at home
  • Problem-solving skills - having developed coping mechanisms to handle stressful life changes and support systems in place to help when life gets tough