Risk and protective factors

Youth suicide is complex and impossible to predict accurately. No single factor alone can predict if a person will die by suicide in the near future.1 However, risk and protective factors can help you identify youth at risk.

Risk factors

In the context of youth suicide, a risk factor is something that could increase the probability of a youth engaging in suicidal behaviour. It’s based on a correlation (or relationship) which tells us that two things often occur together – not that one causes the other.

Risk factors

Highest predictors of risk

Other predictors

  • previous suicide attempt
  • psychiatric diagnosis (e.g. mood disorder) or substance abuse
  • access to lethal means
  • family history of suicide

 

  • poor physical health or disability
  • history of trauma
  • family disintegration
  • transient lifestyle
  • impulsivity
  • contagion effect

Non-suicidal self-injury

Recent research points to a link between non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and suicide. NSSI is a deliberate attempt to cause injury to one’s body without the conscious intent to die. The most commonly reported reason young people self-injure is to temporarily alleviate overwhelming negative emotions. NSSI is more strongly associated with a history of suicide attempts than other established risk factors (e.g., depression), and is considered a strong predictor of future suicide attempts 2.For more information on NSSI, check out the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health’s learning module on the topic.

Protective factors

On the other hand, protective factors are circumstances and experiences believed to promote resilience and mental well-being. 

Protective factors

Individual

  • emotional intelligence
  • self esteem
  • problem-solving skills
  • academic achievement
  • sociability

Family

  • positive relationships
  • family cohesion and support
  • engagement in shared activities

Community 

  • youth engagement3
  • connection to school
  • school attendance
  • school supports
  • supportive peers
  • safe neighbourhoods
  • cultural/spiritual traditions
  • connections to elders

 

Additional resources

A Community-Based Suicide Prevention Planning Manual for Designing a Program Just Right for Your Community was developed by Idaho State University to help determine risk and protective factors in your community.

  • 1. Kutcher, S., & Chehil, S. (2007). Suicide risk management: A manual for health professionals. Denmark: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • 2.  Klonsky, E.D., Victor, S.E., & Saffer, B.Y. (2014). Nonsuicidal self-injury: What we know, and what we need to know. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 59(11), 565-568.
  • 3. Armstrong, L. L., & Manion, I. G. (2006). Suicidal ideation in young males living in rural communities: Distance from school as a risk factor, youth engagement as a protective factor. Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies, 1, 102-113.