Suicide: Risk Factors and Protective Factors

Jacob Eckeberger
October 19th, 2016

Tune in to the YOUTH SPECIALTIES FACEBOOK PAGE for a Facebook Live Q+A on October 26th at 3:00pm CST. We will talk about suicide and answer questions from you regarding suicide among youth and what our ministries can do to help address this ongoing problem.

As a professional who works with a high risk population (people who suffer from a mental health diagnosis or substance use disorder) I am faced with the reality of suicide ideation/thoughts on a daily basis. As a community member that works with at-risk youth, I regularly hear suicidal talk. As a father of a young man with a mental illness I have been impacted by suicidal concerns. I cannot seem to escape the dark subject of death by self-murder. As a result, I have made it a part of my life work to educate the public as much as I can and to build networks of communities to come alongside those who struggle with their dark passengers of hopelessness and helplessness.

Researchers have spent many years studying specific factors related those who are vulnerable to the allure of suicide, risk factors as well as protective factors. If the church is to come alongside those who suffer so much that they are considering taking their own lives, we must understand the complexities that lead an individual to those crossroads. So, what are some of those risk factors and protective factors that impact a young person considering taking their life?

Risk Factors

Mental Health/Substance Abuse

A 2014 national survey reports that 82% of people with suicidal thoughts had a mental health disorder. The same survey reports that 94% of individuals had made a plan to commit suicide, and 88% had a previous suicide attempt in the last year.

There are five mental health disorders that increase the risk of suicide; Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenic, and anorexia with major depressive disorder being the most common among those who attempt suicide.

There are other intersections that become factors in someone contemplating suicide:

Stressful Life Events

  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender dysphoria
  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Social isolation
  • Owning weapons (particularly firearms)
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Lower class
  • Economic recession
  • Chronic pain
  • PTSD (combat trauma)
  • Immigration

Protective factors vary from child to child, from family to family, and community to community. When the following are present they will reduce risk that a young person will develop feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and instead have more resilience. This, of course, is not a guarantee but they certainly increase the likelihood of resilient behaviors and attitudes in adolescents.

Protective Factors

  • Strong social support
  • Engagement in faith communities
  • Spiritual disciplines
  • Moral conflict about suicide
  • Having a sense of purpose/meaning
  • Emotional regulation skills
  • Coping skills/problem solving skills
  • Having people who will miss us
  • Internal perseverance
  • A sense of responsibility

Talking about suicide will not “plant” the idea in someone’s head.  The idea is likely already there and speaking about it validates the struggle of the individual suffering.  It removes the shame and stigma surrounding it.

  1. Can you identify any of the risk factors in the young people you love?
  2. What is the next step for your ministry, family, or community towards increasing protective factors and reducing risk factors? How will you go about doing this?  Who will you ask for help?  What barriers stand in your way?  What resources/assets do you already have available?

chrisCHRIS SCHAFFNER is a certified addictions counselor working with chemically dependent ’emerging adults’ and is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.

Jacob Eckeberger

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.