Protective factors are vital to the safety and security of people who are experiencing mental health concerns and/or thoughts of suicide.
“Protective factors are personal or environmental characteristics that help protect people from suicide.” (2)
Some protective factors include:
Easy access to clinical interventions such as therapy or other mental health services
Family and community support
Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation
Self esteem and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.
Identified coping skills and self care strategies
Protective factors help build resilience, which is the process of adapting well in the face of difficult life experiences such as adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. It is the ability of a person to come back from difficult life events.
People who are resilient are not superhuman. They still experience emotion and distress just like everybody else.
“Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn't experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.”(1)
Resilience is something that everyone possesses, but it is also special and unique to the person. No two people experience resilience in the same way.
The American Psychological Association has a list of 10 ways to increase resilience. However, factors such as life experiences, cultural differences, and socioeconomic status can have an impact on the viability of these steps. The most important thing when building resilience is to identify and strengthen the things that keep the individual safe from mental health concerns and thoughts of suicide.
Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can't change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.
Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, "What's one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?"
Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.
Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
American Psychological Association (APA). The Road to Resilience (1)
Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC). Risk and Protective Factors (2)