Protective Factors as a Unifying Framework for Strength-Based Intervention and Culturally Responsive American Indian and Alaska Native Suicide Prevention

James Allen, Lisa Wexler, Stacy Rasmus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The ongoing challenge of American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) youth suicide is a public health crisis of relatively recent historical origin inadequately addressed by contemporary prevention science. A promising development in AIAN suicide prevention highlights the role of protective factors. A protective factor framework adopts a social ecological perspective and community-level intervention paradigm. Emphasis on protection highlights strength-based AIAN cultural strategies in prevention of youth suicide. Attention to multiple intersecting levels incorporates strategies promoting community as well as individual resilience processes, seeking to influence larger contexts as well as individuals within them. This approach expands the scope of suicide prevention strategies beyond the individual level and tertiary prevention strategies. Interventions that focus on mechanisms of protection offer a rigorous, replicable, and complementary prevention science alternative to risk reduction approaches. This selected review critically examines recent AIAN protective factor suicide prevention science. One aim is to clarify key concepts including protection, resilience, and cultural continuity. A broader aim is to describe the evolution of this promising new framework for conducting primary research about AIAN suicide, and for designing and testing more effective intervention. Recommendations emphasize focus on mechanisms, multilevel interactions, more precise use of theory and terms, implications for new intervention development, alertness to unanticipated impacts, and culture as fundamental in a protective factors framework for AIAN suicide prevention. A protective factor framework holds significant potential for advancing AIAN suicide prevention and for work with other culturally distinct suicide disparity groups, with broad implications for other areas of prevention science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-72
Number of pages14
JournalPrevention Science
Issue number1
Early online dateJun 24 2021
StatePublished - Jun 24 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Society for Prevention Research.


  • American Indian and Alaska Native
  • Cultural continuity
  • Indigenous suicide prevention
  • Multilevel community intervention
  • Protective factors
  • Resilience


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