Protective Factors

A protective factor is a characteristic or attribute that reduces the likelihood of attempting or completing suicide. Protective factors are skills, strengths, or resources that help people deal more effectively with stressful events. They enhance resilience and help to counterbalance risk factors. Protective factors can be considered to be either personal or external-environmental.

Personal protective factors

  • Attitudes, values, and norms prohibiting suicide, e.g., strong beliefs about the meaning and value of life
  • Social skills, e.g., decision-making, problem-solving, and anger management
  • Good health and access to mental and physical health care
  • Strong connections to friends and family as well as supportive significant others
  • Cultural, religious or spiritual beliefs that discourage suicide
  • A healthy fear of risky behaviors and pain
  • Hope for the future—optimism
  • Sobriety
  • Medical compliance and a sense of the importance of health and wellness
  • Impulse control
  • Strong sense of self-worth or self-esteem
  • Sense of personal control or determination
  • Access to a variety of clinical interventions and support for seeking help
  • Coping skills
  • Resiliency
  • Reasons for living
  • Being married or a parent

External or environmental protective factors

  • Strong relationships, particularly with family members
  • Opportunities to participate in and contribute to school or community projects and activities
  • A reasonably safe and stable environment
  • Restricted access to lethal means
  • Responsibilities and duties to others
  • Pets

Increasing protective factors can serve to decrease suicide risk. Strengthening these factors should be an ongoing process to increase resiliency during the presence of increased risk factors or other stressful situations. However, positive resistance to suicide is not permanent, so programs that support and maintain protection against suicide should be ongoing.