ABSTRACT: Youth who experience difficulty in school are at risk for suicide, yet there is little published information specific to risk and protective factors among this group. The purpose of this study was to conduct an in-depth examination of risk and protective factors associated with suicidal behaviour among youth who were experiencing problems in school and to compare these factors between suicide risk and non-suicide risk subgroups. Participants were 730 high school students in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States, aged 14–21 years. All participants were known to be experiencing difficulty with grades and/or attendance. Students completed a paper-and-pencil questionnaire and a one-on-one interview, which assessed suicidal behaviours as well as risk factors (e.g. drug involvement, emotional distress, stress), and protective factors (e.g. self-esteem, coping, support). Analysis of covariance tests, controlling for age and sex, were conducted to examine differences between the suicide risk and non-suicide risk groups on each risk and protective factor. The suicide risk subgroup reported higher levels of all risk factors, except alcohol and marijuana use, and lower levels of protective factors. While the groups did not differ on frequency of alcohol or marijuana use, they did differ on other illicit drug use and consequences of alcohol and other illicit drug use. Recommendations for nurses practising in school settings are discussed.