Suicidal Behaviour in Youth: Risk and Protective Factors

Ian Manion PhD C Psych, Simon Davidson MB BCh FRCPC

Suicide is the second leading cause of mortality among Canadian youth, surpassed only by accidental death. All who work with youth must know the risk factors, warning signals, and possible precipitating events or stressors that can contribute to suicidal thoughts and/or gestures. Paediatricians, family doctors and adolescent health specialists are in a position to screen for risk of suicide in the same way that they might assess other types of health concerns or risk behaviours. The Table below outlines some key issues that anyone working with youth should notice to increase the likelihood of identifying a youth at risk and to decrease the risk of suicidal behaviour. These guidelines have been developed from a review of the clinical literature on youth suicide and the authors' clinical experience working with youth, and have been adapted by the Youth Net/Re'seau Ado Program, a mental health promotion program run for and by youth, which regularly screens for suicidal risk as part of its community based activities with youth.
A vital element in looking for risk factors and warning signals is identifying a significant change in a youth's behaviour from a baseline state. It is important to note that a minority of youth who attempt and commit suicide show no apparent signs of risk. It is equally important for professionals to increase their familiarity with protective factors and ways to decrease the risk of suicidal behaviour. Such factors have also been included in the table. A person working with youth needs to be aware that his or her willingness to discuss this issue with youth in an open and supportive manner actually increases the individual's sense of connectedness and starts to decrease the risk of suicidal behaviour.

Risk Factors for Youth Suicide

A. Youth factors B. Psychological factors C. Family factors D. Environmental factors

2. Warning Signals

A. Behavioural indicators B. Verbal or nonverbal symbolic communication

3. Precipitating Events

4. Protective Factors for Suicide

5. Suicidal Impulses Decreases by