Protective factors

The factors that can lead someone to suicide can be complex and often involve a mixture of causal and circumstantial risk factors. There are also a number of factors called protective factors, that can greatly help to reduce the risk of suicide.

What are protective factors?

Protective factors can be seen as the actions or efforts a person can take to reduce the negative impact of issues like mental health problems, transition from military life or isolation from friends and family.

Positive steps can be made by someone experiencing such issues or you could support someone to take these positive steps to make changes in their life to protect against suicide.

Protective factors

There are many protective factors that can help to reduce the risk of suicide. Some important ones are:

  • staying connected to community
  • significant others (having someone to share concerns with and to care for)
  • personal and environmental factors
  • physical and mental health
  • financial security
  • spirituality and belief

Not all of these will be relevant to every individual, but some will be relevant for most people.

Staying connected to community

Being connected to a community is an important protective factor for well-being.

It means being regularly involved with friends, family and community groups to benefit from unconditional support that comes with these connections.

Being connected with other people and the broader community can provide structure to your day and allows for future planning.  This in turn gives purpose to directions and allows hopelessness to become hopefulness.

Our Be social pages has resources to keep connected to community.

Family, friends and mates (significant others)

Just as staying connected to community can provide more meaning and structure in a person’s life, having a relationship with another person (significant other) can also be a powerful protective factor for suicide by reducing isolation.

A significant other can be a spouse or partner, a parent or child, a close mate or an old friend. Having someone to share concerns with, talk with and to care for (and be cared for), all contribute to a meaningful and valuable life.

Physical and mental health

Being mentally and physically healthy are important to help you participate in a meaningful way in life, to work and to engage in significant relationships.

Physical health can sometimes be limited by factors such as age and injuries, but there are still ways to take care of and increase your physical health with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Good mental health refers to the emotional, psychological and spiritual wellbeing of a person. You may not always have complete control over all of these elements but you can make achievable plans that focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t do.

As with physical health, a good diet and regular exercise benefits your mental health. Regular exercise can be a good way to manage stress because chemicals, such as endorphins, that are released in your body during exercise, are mood-regulating and make you feel better.

Making the necessary changes for good health and wellbeing may involve assessing your state of health, making an achievable plan, and setting a starting point.

See our range of tips to stay on top of physical and mental health on our living well pages

Personal protective factors

Good physical and mental health, close friends and family and staying connected to the community are personal protective factors.

Other personal factors can include:

  • strong sense of self-worth and hope for the future
  • sense of personal control
  • resilience (being able to bounce back from challenges in life)

Being resilient is about developing coping strategies, learning new skills and being adaptable. It is something that can be learned and practiced.

Environmental protective factors

Environmental factors that can be protective include:

  • safe and stable housing
  • being responsible for others
  • opportunities to participate meaningfully in work, leisure or community groups.

It is the interaction of these environmental factors with the personal factors of a person’s life that can protect and reduce the risk of suicide.

Financial security

Another important protective factor against the risk of suicide is having financial security. Being able to pay for basic necessities like food and housing costs reduces stress on a person and their family.

Financial security for ex-service personnel is sometimes complex… with pensions, readiness for work and job satisfaction being competing goals.

Understanding financial security can be an important step to help with relieving financial stresses, therefore getting timely and qualified financial advice is a good place to start.

Spirituality and belief

A belief system is not necessarily about religion.  It is a set of beliefs that sustains you and gives you a reason to go on.  Belief is personal and can take on many forms.

As a protective factor it can help by:

  • being part of a community
  • helping to find meaning in life.

Searching for meaning and answers to life’s challenges can be valuable as a protective factor, and it may be helpful for you to explore your value systems more closely.

Getting timely help

The timeliness of help is another important protective factor.  It’s less about intervening in a crisis, than it is about getting the right support at the right time.

Having timely help and information can avoid a crisis and lead to improved, sustainable levels of well-being.

Open Arms counsellors and lived experience peers are here to help.

Next steps

One or all of these factors can be important to address in your life or the life of someone you are concerned about.

Recovering from challenging circumstances is a process and takes time, so making achievable plans to make positive changes in your life or someone you are supporting is a positive first step.

See also

  • risk factors

    Causal risk factors

    Causal factors for suicide include different mental illnesses or symptoms of being mentally unwell.
  • women drinking beer

    Circumstantial risk factors

    Circumstantial factors may not be significant, but when combined with causal factors they increase the potential risk of suicide.
  • two men running

    Living well

    A range of services are available to the current and ex-serving community and their families to stay healthy.