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.

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

 

  • 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.