Risk and Protective Factors

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call:

Click here to visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Click here to visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

Notice: This informational website is not intended as a crisis response or hotline. Local crisis hotline numbers can be found in the front of your local phone book or call 911.

Suicide Prevention Base

The base for suicide prevention comes from observing suicide risk factors, suicide protective factors, and their interactions.

Suicide Risk Factors

Are things that increase the potential for a person's suicide or suicidal behavior. A person's age, gender, or ethnicity can increase the impact of certain risk factors or combinations of risk factors for them. Understanding risk factors can help counteract the myth that suicide is a random act or results from stress alone.

Suicide Protective Factors

Are things that reduce the potential for a person's suicide or suicidal behavior.

Protective Factors

Include attitudes and behaviors. Both risk and protective factors include a wide variety of characteristics of individuals and groups. These characteristics include things like a person's family history, biology, psychology, and socio-cultural situation. They also include environmental conditions, such as easy access to the highly lethal means of suicide or easy access to help and treatment services.

Biological, Psychological and Social Risk Factors for Suicide

  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Mental disorders - particularly mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and certain personality disorder diagnoses
  • Alcohol and substance abuse disorders
  • Family history of suicide
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Hopelessness
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • Some major physical illnesses

Environmental Risk Factors

  • Job or financial loss
  • Relational or social loss
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Local clusters of suicide that have a contagious influence
  • Stigma associated with help-seeking behavior
  • Barriers to accessing health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
  • Certain cultural and religious beliefs - for instance, the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
  • Exposure to the influence of others who have died by suicide, including media exposure

Socio-Cultural Risk Factors

  • Stigma associated with help-seeking behavior
  • Barriers to accessing health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
  • Certain cultural and religious beliefs - for instance, the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
  • Exposure to the influence of others who have died by suicide, including media exposure

Selecting Useful Interventions for Suicide Prevention

Information about risk and protective factors contributes to selecting useful interventions for suicide prevention. But much remains to be learned; especially about how these risk and protective factors interact across the life course and how community suicide prevention programs can best integrate this information.