Teen suicide-risk and protective factors

“Temperament, family and community all have a role” according to Dr. Nadine Kaslow.

In her article, Dr. Kaslow explores the risk and protective factors of teen suicide. Risk factors are things that increase the likelihood that a child will engage in suicidal behavior and the protective factors are things that reduce the risk.

Risk factors:

  • A recent or serious loss. This might include the death of a family member, a friend or a pet. The separation or a divorce of parents, or a breakup with a boyfriend or a girlfriend, can also be felt as a profound loss, along with a parent losing a job, or the family losing their home.
  • A psychiatric disorder, particularly a mood disorder like depression, or a trauma- and stress-related disorder.
  • Prior suicide attempts increase risk for another suicide attempt.
  • Alcohol or drug disorders, getting into a lot of trouble, having disciplinary problems, engaging in a lot of high-risk behaviors.
  • Struggling with sexual orientation in an environment that is not respectful or accepting of that orientation. The issue is not whether a child is gay or lesbian, but whether he or she is struggling to come out in an unsupportive environment.
  • A family history of suicide is something that can be very significant and concerning, as is a history of domestic violence, child abuse or neglect.
  • Lack of social support. A child who doesn’t feel support from significant adults in her life, as well as her friends, can become so isolated that suicide seems to present the only way out of her problems.
  • Bullying. We know that being a victim of bullying is a risk factor, but there’s also some evidence that kids who are bullies may be at increased risk for suicidal behavior.
  • Access to lethal means, like firearms and pills.
  • Stigma associated with asking for help. One of the things we know is that the more hopeless and helpless people feel, the more likely they are to choose to hurt themselves or end their life. Similarly, if they feel a lot of guilt or shame, or if they feel worthless or have low self-esteem.
  • Barriers to accessing services: Difficulties in getting much-needed services include lack of bilingual service providers, unreliable transportation, and the financial cost of services.
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that suicide is a noble way to resolve a personal dilemma.

Protective factors:

  • Good problem-solving abilities. Kids who are able to see a problem and figure out effective ways to manage it, to resolve conflicts in non-violent ways, are at lower risk.
  • Strong connections. The stronger the connections kids have to their families, to their friends, and to people in the community, the less likely they are to harm themselves. Partly, that’s because they feel loved and supported, and partly because they have people to turn to when they’re struggling and feel really challenged.
  • Restricted access to highly lethal means of suicide.
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and that support self-preservation.
  • Relatively easy access to appropriate clinical intervention, whether that be psychotherapy, individual, group, family therapy, or medication if indicated.
  • Effective care for mental, physical, and substance use disorders. Good medical and mental health care involves ongoing relationships, making kids feel connected to professionals who take care of them and are available to them.

Dr. Kaslow suggests in her article that the first step in prevention, is talking.

Mental health needs to be a priority, and children need to have access to treatment. It is important to know the risk factors, and to take action if you, or someone you know is at risk.

The National Suicide Prevention hotline is open all day, everyday:  1-800-273-8255