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Rural Health Information Hub

Community Connectedness for Suicide Prevention

Every community member has a role to play in preventing suicide. To help, community members can learn how to identify warning signs, ask if someone is thinking about suicide, and connect those at risk with services and resources. Rural programs can provide suicide prevention training, both to interested community members and specific community groups. Examples of community groups who may be “gatekeepers” include law enforcement, first responders, gun shop owners and retailers, motel staff, clergy, and staff of community-based programs.

The following training programs are available to teach community members and gatekeepers to help and support those struggling with mental health or thinking about suicide.

  • Mental Health First Aid, developed by the National Council for Behavioral Health, covers a wide variety of topics including steps to take when someone is suicidal. This course was designed to help laypeople recognize signs of mental distress and when and how to refer individuals for help.
  • QPR, or Question, Persuade, Refer, is a 60-90 minute training which can be delivered in-person or virtually. During QPR, trainees learn to identify the warning signs of suicide and how to question, persuade, and refer someone for help.
  • safeTALK is a four-hour program during which trainees learn to recognize warning signs, engage someone who is at risk, and connect them to care or other support.
  • ASIST, or Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, is a two-day workshop with instruction on how to deliver a skilled intervention and develop a safety plan.

Fostering a sense of community connectedness can be a valuable tool and protective factor in preventing suicide and helping community members cope after a suicide. Community connectedness can be fostered through interactions with friends, family, neighbors, peer groups, and community organizations.

Connectedness initiatives can include support groups, community-wide events, mentoring, and buddy programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters. These programs can be intergenerational or designed for specific sub-groups such as LGBTQI+ youth, students, veterans, older adults, or suicide loss survivors (someone who has lost a loved one to suicide). For example, community connectedness programs for older adults could include expanding volunteer opportunities to increase social interaction and instill a sense of purpose, worth, and accomplishment while also giving back to the community. For youth, school districts can partner elementary students with high school students so they become connected with someone outside of their family who can serve as a role model and source of support.

Implementation Considerations

Building upon the strength of rural communities, community connectedness programs can create networks of support for people who may have suicidal ideation or have lost someone to suicide. They may also help in addressing social isolation, a public health issue and risk factor for suicide, though it can be hard to reach those who choose to remain isolated.

Existing community networks can identify and support individuals who are experiencing suicide ideation or loss. Instead of establishing new partnerships, rural programs can seek to leverage ones that are already established. For example, faith-based organizations can foster community support through a shared belief system, and they are a proven tool to connect individuals who face isolation. Mental health, healthcare, and social service organizations can also conduct outreach and provide services in central and commonly visited locations within communities to connect with the most isolated individuals. Communities should review their data on mental health and suicide to inform the development or leveraging of existing partnerships and the development of a community-wide gatekeeper training plan.

Program Clearinghouse Examples

Resources to Learn More

Promoting Connectedness for Trauma and Suicide Prevention: Needs and Opportunities to Address Social Isolation in a Pandemic
Offers a webinar with panelists discussing the importance of community connectedness to prevent suicide and trauma during a public health emergency. Focus is on populations who experience social isolation and are at risk of suicide such as the elderly, youth, veterans, and LBGTQ groups. Includes a list of resources addressing social isolation and suicide prevention.
Organization(s): Prevention Institute
Date: 12/2020

The Star Collection
Features free e-books for American Indian/Alaska Native youth to celebrate their culture, foster connectedness, and support positive relationships.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)