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As are evident from the factors listed below, distal support factors provide a basis to prevent mental illness and improve prognosis where problems exist while proximal protective factors enable successful dealing with issues more directly.

Proximal and Distal Support Factors

So, how can risk and protective factors be used in helping someone?

Any caregiver, whether a professional mental health worker or private individual (e.g. partner, family member, friend), has to identify the risk and protective factors that influence the person’s mental illness and the likelihood of recovery. Distal factors are much more entrenched and difficult to change. Therefore, they serve more as a framework to formulate the approach and strategy of the recovery plan.

On the other hand, proximal risk and support factors directly affect the course of the mental illness and its symptoms and is easier to change. Thus, proximal factors are treated as a priority to affect a quick and decisive positive change. Whereas distal support factors are utilized as much as possible in the process, distal risk factors are accepted but compensated for as much as possible.

Proximal risk factors are addressed by formulating an action plan to avoid, eliminate, or change the conditions. For instance, non-adherence to medication, one of the most prominent risk factors, can be improved by monitoring, reminders, and increased motivation. Social isolation can be addressed by encouraging social activities and events. Unemployment can be tackled by a job search plan, increasing vocational skills, and so forth. Basically, the idea is to take specific action steps to turn a proximal risk factor into a proximal support factor by painstakingly considering each aspect and its solutions.

Next, we explain what a SWOT analysis is and how you can use it to provide care for someone.