Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Four Key Features of Risk and Protective Factors

4. Risk and Protective Factors are Influential Over Time

Risk and protective factors can strengthen or limit the presence of other factors and disorders over a lifetime. For example, risk factors such as poverty and family dysfunction, can contribute to later psychosocial problems and behavioral disorders, such as risky sexual behavior and depression. Moreover, risk and protective factors within one particular context—such as the family—may also influence or be influenced by factors in another context. For example, effective parenting has been shown to mediate the effects of multiple risk factors, including poverty, parental divorce, parental bereavement, and parental mental health problems.

The more we understand about how risk and protective factors interact, the better prepared we will be to develop appropriate interventions. In the past, prevention practitioners typically focused on a select group of factors that they thought contributed to a specific issue or produced a single outcome. Today, practitioners have begun broadening their lens—to look at connections between risk factors and implement effective programs strategically to address multiple outcomes.


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