Risk and Protective Factors

Mental wellbeing issues are not typically the result of one risk factor. Frequently it occurs in a situation when a person feels like they cannot cope or deal with the problems and challenges in their life. Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance use disorders, especially when they are untreated, increase the risk of mental wellbeing issues and suicide.  

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms that suggest risk for suicide include:

  • Hopelessness
  • Intense or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking or without caring about consequences
  • Feeling trapped or like there’s no way out
  • Verbal hints such as, “I won’t be around much longer.”
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society
  • Anxiety, agitation, inability to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic mood or personality changes
  • Expressing no reason for living or no sense of purpose in life
  • Giving away things that are meaningful, putting affairs in order
  • Seeking access to potentially lethal means (guns, knives, pills, high windows, etc.)
  • Becoming suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
  • Talking about death and suicide

A number of factors may put a person at increased risk for mental wellbeing concerns and suicide, including:

Risk Factors

A number of factors may put a person at increased risk of suicide, including:

Biophysical

  • Family history of mental health problems
  • Complications during pregnancy or birth
  • Personal history of Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Chronic medical condition such as cancer or diabetes, especially hypothyroidism or other brain-related illness such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Poor nutrition and lack of sleep

Psychological

  • A serious or chronic medical illness or disability
  • Prior suicide attempt
  • Mental disorders, particularly depression and other mood disorders
  • Prolonged stress and Stressful life situations, such as financial problems or breaking the law
  • Traumatic life experiences or abuse 
  • Low self-esteem, perceived incompetence, negative view of life
  • Poor academic achievement
  • Lack of access to or inadequate mental health care

Social

  • Isolation
  • Being in an abusive relationship or friendship
  • Having few friends or few healthy relationships
  • Recent loss, either by death, divorce, or other means
  • Bullying, either as the victim or perpetrator
  • Growing up, or currently living, in poverty
  • Poor social skills, poor communication skills
  • Discrimination
  • Lack of access to support services

Spiritual

  • Perception of being irredeemable or inherently flawed beyond repair
  • Perception of insignificance
  • Conflicting thoughts or doubts surrounding deep religious beliefs

Common Protective Factors

Protective factors are circumstances or situations in a person’s life that help protect them from mental wellbeing concerns and suicide. These include having access to adequate health care, having strong coping skills and resilience skills, connecting to supportive people or a supportive community, having a sense of purpose in life, means restriction, and having cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide.

Biophysical

  • Secure Attachment as a child
  • Healthy diet, exercise, and development

Psychological

  • Reliable support  
  • Emotional self-regulation
  • Good coping skills and problem solving skills
  • Subjective sense of self-sufficiency
  • Optimism
  • Positive self-regard 

Social

  • Ability to make friends and get along with others
  • Good peer relationships
  • Supportive relationship with family
  • Participation in sports team, club, community, or religious group
  • Economic/Financial Security
  • Access to a range of support services

Spiritual

  • Future orientation
  • Achievement motivation
  • Set of moral beliefs