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Protective Factors for Suicide

Rural communities have numerous strengths and assets that are protective factors and contribute to reducing suicide risk. Protective factors rural areas can focus on include social connections, access to effective healthcare, and coping and problem-solving skills.

Social Connections

Rural communities are tight-knit. These social connections to friends, family, and community members can protect against suicide. Many rural families have lived in the community for generations, and multi-generational families can create a solid foundation for support and connectedness. Consequently, rural residents reach out to neighbors for support in difficult times, like the loss of a loved one. Drawing upon this strength while reducing the negative impacts of stigma on mental health is critical to reducing risk of suicide in rural communities.

Access to Effective Healthcare

Access to effective healthcare services is important for identifying and addressing suicide risk. Effective care is:

  • Provided at multiple levels
  • Addresses physical and mental health
  • Includes pathways for coordination, referral, and follow-up

To ensure access to effective care, rural areas may integrate behavioral healthcare and suicide prevention into primary care settings and ensure providers have the information, training, and resources they need to assist individuals who are at risk of suicide with system and care navigation and keep them safe. Telehealth can facilitate access to these services and reduce travel barriers for rural residents. Schools can also serve as a setting for youth to access healthcare services, including screening and brief intervention in school-based health or mental health clinics. A positive and supportive relationship between the patient and a healthcare provider is important for retention in care, routine monitoring of suicide risk, and positive and improved patient outcomes. A supportive healthcare provider can work collaboratively with a patient, their family, and other community providers who treat the patient to provide coordinated care and most effectively address suicidal thoughts and behaviors and other related conditions.

Coping and Problem Solving Skills

Having basic life skills that promote resiliency — including the ability to problem solve, cope, and adapt to change — is a central protective factor for suicide. In rural areas, social determinants such as poverty, employment status, and access to safe and healthy housing are also barriers to developing coping and problem-solving skills.

For rural adults, programs that focus on basic life and job skills can enhance self-esteem and coping skills. This can include job support, such as tips for interviewing and attire. Other strategies include activities like meditation, interacting with nature, arts and crafts, and skills learned through clinical interventions such as therapy. Programs can also encourage volunteer opportunities, mentorship, and engaging in community improvement projects to help build self-esteem and purpose.

For rural youth and families, social-emotional learning programs like Youth Aware of Mental Health Program, PAX Good Behavior Game, and Sources of Strength are evidence-based programs that have been shown to increase resilience and improve problem-solving skills. Programs that focus on teaching effective parenting skills, emotional self-regulation, and strengthening family cohesiveness have also been shown to reduce suicide risk factors.

Resources to Learn More

General Violence Prevention: Moving Forward
Video/Multimedia
Highlights both risk factors and protective factors for violence and the associated risks of violence by using actors on stage to demonstrate how people are impacted in positive and negative ways.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Date: 11/2020