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Protective Factors & Resiliency

While suicide is a tragedy that can affect any and all communities, it is the most preventable type of death. There are a myriad of effective interventions for suicidal youth but development of protective factors and resiliency, which go hand in hand, are the best line of defense. Protective factors are the conditions or attributes in individuals that, when present, mitigate or eliminate risk and increase health and well-being while resiliency is the ability to recover or adjust to adverse incidents or circumstances.


In the context of suicide prevention, when we talk about resilience, what we’re specifically talking about is emotional or psychological resilience, which is slightly more complicated. Dr Michael Ungar, Principal Investigator with the Resilience Research Center has this to say about resilience:

“In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways.”

These concepts are often also referred to as “emotional intelligence”.  The American Psychological Association tells us that emotional intelligence includes the “abilities to perceive, appraise, and express emotions accurately and appropriately, to use emotions to facilitate thinking, to understand and analyze emotions, to use emotional knowledge effectively, and to regulate one's emotions to promote both emotional and intellectual growth.”  In the simplest terms, emotional intelligence or resiliency indicates someone who has developed good coping skills.

To wit, resilient youth:

  • Embrace their feelings with the understanding that their feelings matter.
  • Have been exposed to adults demonstrating good behaviors for how to deal with loss, stress, sadness, anger and other negative emotions in ways that are not destructive.
  • Do not repress feelings (negative or positive) and know how to constructively express emotion and manage their feelings.
  • Have been taught to understand and appreciate silence and stillness, and are thereby better equipped to handle feelings of stress and anxiety.
  • They have been given tools and strategies to manage emotions, particularly in situations of high stress.

Protective Factors

The CDC gives us a more comprehensive definition of protective factors for youth populations:

“Protective Factors are individual or environmental characteristics, conditions, or behaviors that reduce the effects of stressful life events; increase an individual’s ability to avoid risks or hazards; and promote social and emotional competence to thrive in all aspects of life now and in the future.”

There are several types of protective factors but they can often be sorted into three categories including personal characteristics, life conditions, and behaviors. Protective factors include:

  • The ability to make friends.
  • Good peer relationships in healthy peer groups.
  • Family support – both immediate and extended family members.
  • Significant school engagement – academic achievement or mastery of academic skills.
  • Reliable support and discipline from caregivers.
  • Good problem solving skills and coping skills.
  • Faith or religion.
  • Sense of community – belonging to sports teams or clubs, participating in community activities, volunteering, etc.
  • Clear, positive expectations for behavior and values – both internal and external.
  • Structure and consistency – at home, at school, in the community.
  • High self-esteem.
  • Emotional self-regulation.

The more protective factors we can provide and engender in our youth, and the more positive coping mechanisms and strategies we can teach them and help them develop, the better prepared our youth will be when faced with stress, strife and loss.  


Where You Go Is Not Who You Will Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania - by Frank BruniAmerican culture has created a conviction among too many young people that their futures will be determined and their worth established by which schools say yes and which say no. Bruni, a bestselling author and a columnist for the New York Times, shows that the Ivy League has no monopoly on corner offices, governors' mansions, or the most prestigious academic and scientific grants. What matters in the end are a student's efforts in and out of the classroom, not the gleam of his or her diploma.