Protective factors are personal or environmental characteristics that help protect people from harm. While there is not a lot of research on protective factors for suicide, they are just as important to create awareness of as the risk factors, if not more important. Prevention is essential.
Also, it's important to mention that there are many more protective factors beyond what I have mentioned here. I encourage you to read more about both protective and risk factors. The better informed we are the more helpful we can be.
Relationship with a significant other
Love and support are key. We know that healthy human connection has incredible power to heal and improve the quality of our lives. Having someone to lean on and to provide feedback and encouragement is important. (If you are the partner of someone who is struggling with their mental health, please remember you MUST take care of yourself too).
Having a pet (if you are a pet person) has been shown to improve mental health and help reduce depression and anxiety. The combination of movement, love, affection and sense of purpose that comes with caring for a pet can be very therapeutic.
The values of religion that encourage hope, faith and choosing life can often make a person want to try harder to fight their demons. That being said, religious abuse can do the opposite. Make sure you are engaging with an authentic, validating and nurturing version of your religion if you have had negative experiences in the past. Religion is not always protective.
There is NO SHAME IN MEDICATION. If medication helps a person feel more like themselves, helps the therapeutic process by increasing engagement and stops thoughts of suicide, then this is an obvious healthy and NECESSARY proactive choice.
A support network is vital. Friends can remind a struggling person why they need to stay in this world, distract from pain when needed and support and encourage the person to get the help they need.
The fear of death, the fear of the method of dying or pain that they may experience is something that can be a deterrent for suicide. Like anything in life, fear has both constructive and destructive features. In this case it can be a huge asset.
A competent therapist who understands risk assessment (feeling suicidal vs actual risk of attempting), the value of collaborative work with all health care providers and how to treat the mental health conditions that could contribute to suicidal thoughts and behavior is VERY important. It’s also critical that you find a therapist that is the right fit for you. For more on how to find the right therapist, click here for my blog “Finding Your Therapist Soul Mate”
Having children of their own sometimes gives a person something to live for. The thought of leaving their child in the world without them is daunting and so they are determined to try to live for their kids.
**It’s important to note that if a parent does complete suicide, it is not because they did not love and care about their children. In many cases it is the opposite. Their mental illness is telling them that they will be more of a burden to their children alive. This is not based on logic because mental illness often does not allow for logical.
Duty to others
This is along the same lines as having children. Feeling like they need to stay alive for someone else. An elderly parent, a sibling, a friend. Sometimes feeling needed can be the one thing that keeps them here.
Sense of hope
Feeling that things can get better and that their suffering won't last forever is really crucial. "It won't always feel this bad, please hang on. I'll be here with you," can be really supportive and reassuring. According to Viktor Frankl, Hope is what kept many people from killing themselves in the concentration camps. When someone has something to live and hope for.
This is not the same as a safety contract. A safety agreement outlines the person's triggers and situations that might put them at risk. It lists coping skills and who to contact if a crisis occurs (phone numbers or crisis hotline). When a safety agreement is put together, make sure to find out if there is access to guns, potentially lethal medication or any other means of hurting oneself. Ask that those things be given to a trusted friend or relative.
The more protective factors a person has, the lower the risk for suicide. Taking a proactive approach to suicidality is important and necessary. Many of these factors are within our control which is a good thing.
Rachel Tuchman, LMHC
680 Central Avenue, Suite 119