Risk factors make it more likely someone will engage in suicidal behavior. Protective factors, on the other hand, make it less likely that people will engage in a negative behavior. Some things act as protective factors against the likelihood of suicide. They enhance one’s resilience and may serve to counterbalance risk factors.
However, protective factors don’t cancel out risk factors, nor are they necessarily permanent: they can wax and wane over time and many can and should be strengthened whenever possible. Programs that develop and strengthen protective factors should be ongoing, and not “once-and-done” events.
Protective factors include:
- Strong connections to and identity with family and community
- Social support
- A sense of purpose or meaning in life (e.g. activism, job, pet)
- Skills for problem solving, conflict resolution, and handling disputes non-violently
- Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support self preservation
- Access to effective clinical care for mental, physical and substance use disorders
- Support for help-seeking, including seeking professional services
- Restricted access to highly lethal means of suicide
- Support through ongoing medical and mental health care relationships
Faith as a Protective Factor
Clearly, many of these protective factors are intricately aligned with the goals and benefits of participation in communities of faith. Faith itself can be thought of as an expression of many of these or, conversely, they can be considered an expression of faith. Hope, connectedness, belonging, meaning, purpose, emotional support are all essential parts of faith communities. In this sense, faith can itself be considered a protective factor, one through which many of the others emerge. For many people, their faith community provides a sense of connection and offers a place to share their feelings with others, find hope and joy, express sorrows, and find forgiveness.