1. Leaders Take a Stand — “Not Another Life to Lose”
Leaders can take bold and visible positions declaring suicide prevention and mental health promotion critical community concerns. This statement can be written or oral and might include some of these talking points:
- Thank you/We are all in this together:
- Authentically express gratitude for the community’s service and dedication during stressful times and how their efforts are contributing to the overarching important mission and vision of the community.
- Offer specific examples of key people or groups demonstrating resilience, caring for one another or serving well to promote well-being.
- We see you, and we want to hear from you:
- Acknowledge that people are facing challenges right now (list examples specific to your community) and that many may be experiencing high levels of stress.
- Then say, "I get it. Me, too."
- Give a specific example of a challenge you faced – you can describe any specific hardship that you feel comfortable with, and you can go into as much detail as you are willing to share. The point is that you are human. too. If you have received support from others, describe how it was helpful.
- Offer an open forum where community members can connect, check in and support one another.
- We care about you:
- Say. "While we had no choice but to rise to face the stressors we’ve been challenged with, we have choices about how we take care of each other. Your contribution to this community matters because you matter to us. Your families matter to us. We don’t want you to just survive the coming weeks and months, we want you to thrive because we need you. You are part of our community and part of our family. Today, I want to talk about how we are going to take care of you and each other.”
- Offer a short list of resources and steps you are taking to help them cope (e.g., community resources, crisis resources, and the resource page you are developing on your website).
- We have a plan – here is what to expect on how the community will work to prevent suicide and promote and mental health.
- Offer reassurance: “If you get stuck, I want you to come to me. I’ve got your back. Together, we will find a way through.”
2. Bring Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Resources to Life
In addition to posting social media graphics and posters with the crisis resources numbers and lists of website links, take time to bring these resources to life for people. Effective mental health advocates do their homework. If you want to be a trusted referral source, you need to walk your talk. Get to know your local mental health providers. Visit your local psychiatric hospital or addiction recovery center. Attend a 12-step meeting. Invite local counselors to a “meet and greet” event. Call your local crisis line to get a better sense of how it works. Ask the questions you need to have answered so you can confidentially refer. Your referral will be so much stronger if you can say, “Oh, I know Dr. So-and-so, she’s really approachable and competent. I’ll take you there to meet her, if you’d like.”
- Conduct a mental health resource audit:
- Kick the tires of your available resources -- ask them questions about how they work, what to expect, and what their credentials are.
- Go further -- use the services to see how they work from your personal experience.
- Create a “what to expect” document of the best resources for your community.
- Develop a resource promotion plan.
- Share stories of how resources were helpful:
- Build credibility by talking about what you and others have learned from your firsthand experiences.
- Troubleshoot on ways to work through barriers to help.
- Meet and greet your resource representatives:
- Bring a representative from a mental health or crisis service to your community to describe the resource and answer questions. Put a face and a name to the contact to help facilitate the future warm hand-offs.
See also: Why Invest in Suicide Prevention?
3. Launch a Well-Being Advisory Council
A true comprehensive and sustained public health approach to prevention will take more than an awareness week or one-time training. To create significant change, a more strategic approach is needed. Start by pulling together a small group of stakeholders – people whose roles in the community reflect some level of relevance to this issue and others who are passionate about suicide prevention because it has touched their lives personally. Their task? To identify culturally relevant areas of strength and vulnerability for suicide within the community and to develop a strategic approach to change.
4. Implement an Engaging Communication Strategy
Look beyond the awareness week to figure out a broader and deeper, multi-pronged approach.
- Review best practices in building a suicide prevention messaging strategy:
- Build an annual content calendar:
- Learn the preferred practices of public messaging about suicide:
- Share images and examples that inspire action:
- Customize these sample posts with your community’s actions and outcomes.
- [Name of community ] makes #suicideprevention a health and safety priority by creating hope in action. #WSPD
- [Name of community] We are doing our part to #preventsuicide during #NSPW. Everyone can play a role!
- Validate suffering without creating a self-fulfilling prophecy:
People who are experiencing suicidal intensity often feel great comfort in knowing they are not alone in their pain. By realizing that trauma, grief and injustice often lead to suicidal thinking, people living through this despair can start to shift their thinking. The trap that some advocates fall into is overemphasizing the prevalence of extreme behaviors as an “epidemic.” This type of messaging can make people feel hopeless about change. Worse, when it comes to suicide, this type of exaggeration might even create a cultural script that inadvertently influences people to engage in suicidal behavior, because it is the "norm" of what people do to cope with pain. Use suicide death data and suicide loss stories judiciously and make sure they are balanced with other data that represents healing and help-giving.
Tell people what you want them to remember:
Sometimes, in our attempt to get attention to our cause, we play up tragic outcomes and overlook important calls to action and messages of hope. We need to tell people what we want them to remember: Treatment works, prevention is possible, and people recover. Let people know what to do if they are struggling or if they are worried about a friend or loved one. Tell people exactly how to get involved in suicide prevention in their communities.
5. Cultivate Powerful Storytellers and Reduce Bias
A main goal of many mental health advocates is to “reduce the stigma of mental illness”; however, the more we talk about stigma, the more we actually reinforce it. Instead, we can fight bias and prejudice about people who live with mental health conditions or suicidal thoughts by sharing stories of hope and recovery. When we can demonstrate how others transform their wounds into sources of power, we create hope. When respected people come forward and say, “I fought through my suffering, I got support, and I got better,” others feel they can get better, too, and the issues become less marginalized. When you do programs that highlight how people have lived through their pain, be sure that they don’t end with despair; share the healing practices and positive outcomes, as well.
- Suicide Survivor Storytelling courses: https://unitesurvivors.org/online-education/
6. Honor the Life Lived of Those Who Died By Suicide and Celebrate the Lives of Those Who Have Survived.
Just like we do for people who fight cancer, we can honor the life that was lived with dignity and celebrate the resilience of people who fought to stay.
7. Offer Screening Tools that Lead to Self-Empowerment
Screening is a great example of a low-cost, high-impact tool for mental health and suicide prevention advocates. Like with other health issues, screening for mental health conditions increases the likelihood that we can identify emerging symptoms and alter their course with early intervention. Screening offers people a way to anonymously self-assess, which is often an attractive first step for those who are ambivalent about seeking help. A screening that just gives participants a label, however, will fall short. Effective screening tools give participants a call to action and link them to additional local and on-line resources. Here are some examples:
- Help Yourself, Help Others: https://www.helpyourselfhelpothers.org/
- Mental Health America: https://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools/
- Man Therapy: https://mantherapy.org/
8. Make Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention Programs and Trainings Engaging
It’s human nature to turn away from things that are scary, confusing and depressing. The challenge for mental health/suicide prevention advocates is to make programs uplifting, engaging and cool without becoming so superficial they miss the point.
- Develop a contest to encourage participation:
- Provide opportunities for deep learning.
Many mental health promotion efforts seek to promote awareness, but education alone will not move the needle. We call it the “State Trooper Effect.” We pay attention to educational or awareness-raising efforts when they are done well and right in front of us, but, once they are in our rear view mirror, we tend to go back to what we were doing before. Deep learning goes beyond passive input of knowledge. Deep learning engages people in a knowing-being-doing process. Yes, education is part of that equation – a necessary but not sufficient piece. We also need to get people “doing” – physically, emotionally and even spiritually involved in the work, and, to really make it stick, personal reflection on the experience is key.
- Offer a training to your community.
Consider offering a brief suicide prevention gatekeeper training
- Construction Working Minds/Working Minds (suicide prevention for the workplace): https://www.coloradodepressioncenter.org/workingminds/
- Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) https://qprinstitute.com/
- safeTALK https://www.livingworks.net/safetalk
- Talk Saves Lives https://afsp.org/talk-saves-lives
See also: Blueprint for Suicide Prevention
9. Create a Symbol of Solidarity
We’ve seen the pink ribbons, the rainbow flags and the Black Lives Matter fists. Symbols of solidarity work, but they need to be unique. When these symbols work well, people can see at a glance the community that is being built. Symbols used to promote suicide prevention can let people find others who have lived through suicidal intensity or find people who might be safe to approach with questions. When the symbol of solidarity starts to spread to large groups of people, it is a powerful testament to a person secretly in despair. Some examples of symbols of solidarity in suicide prevention include:
- Project Semicolon: https://projectsemicolon.com/
- Honor beads often worn at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of Darkness Walk. Participants choose to wear different colors to symbolize their experience – one color represents “I have lost a loved one to suicide,” another color might mean “I have struggled myself,” while another might mean “I support the cause of suicide prevention.”
- Stickers worn on construction hard hats showing which workers had received suicide prevention training.
10. Donate to or Volunteer for Local or National Suicide Prevention Organizations
Engaging in community prevention efforts is a great way for people to give back and to get to know the local resources available. Investments in prevention programs and research will help us get ahead of the problem. Get involved!