Within the U.S., approximately 11 out of every 100,000 people die by suicide. Among some refugee groups the rate of suicide may be even higher. For example, recent rates of suicide within the Bhutanese refugee community have been more than three times as high. What is contributing to the increased rate of suicide among some refugee communities, and what can be done to prevent it? Preventing suicide requires an understanding of risk factors, protective factors, and ways to identify and help those who are most in need.

Risk factors are specific characteristics of a person or experiences that research has found are more likely to be present among those who attempt suicide. Not all people with suicide risk factors go on to attempt suicide, but knowing common risk factors can help identify those who may be most at risk and in need of further assessment and assistance. Some risk factors can not be changed, such as being male, being older, or having a family history of mental illness. Other risk factors, however, could themselves become targets of treatment. These may include:

  • Substance or alcohol use
  • Depression or impulsivity
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Social isolation
  • Unemployment
  • Recent loss

Protective factors are characteristics or experiences that make someone less likely to consider suicide. Building up protective factors can help prevent suicide. Examples of protective factors include:

  • Sense of duty to others
  • Sense of belonging
  • Hope
  • Feeling that what you do matters

These risk and protective factors can affect anyone, but refugees may be more likely to experience some risk factors. For instance, leaving one’s own country and community can be a significant loss. Difficulty with language may contribute to problems finding a job, which in turn may foster a sense of hopelessness. The fact that many refugees experience high levels of stress and loss following resettlement may be one reason that some refugee groups have higher rates of suicide.

Learn more: Suicide Prevention and Intervention