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Public Education and Awareness Campaigns for Suicide Prevention

Public education and awareness campaigns are commonly used in public health, including for suicide prevention. These campaigns reach a wide audience and raise awareness for subjects not frequently discussed or largely unknown to the general public. There is evidence that public awareness campaigns for suicide prevention programs increase help-seeking behavior. Some campaigns are specific to suicide prevention, while others address suicide prevention in a broader campaign about mental health or managing stress.

Campaigns for suicide prevention should emphasize help-seeking, reduce stigma, encourage positive behavior change, inform your audience of available resources, and highlight effective treatments and supports. Successful suicide prevention campaigns:

  • Utilize formative research and systematic planning process
  • Embed the campaign into an overall suicide prevention strategy
  • Clearly specify audiences, goals, and a call to action
  • Are informed by audience research to make them culturally appropriate and credible and understandable to the audience
  • Are pre-tested
  • Utilize multiple types of media and a broad range of channels
  • Are evaluated and modified as needed

Public awareness campaigns can use multiple types of media, including billboards, newspapers and magazines, radio and television, social and streaming media, posters and ads in public spaces, and brochures in clinics, schools, or other appropriate venues. Communities and organizations can leverage information and materials from broad, large-scale suicide prevention campaigns and modify them to their needs. Examples include:

  • National Suicide Prevention Month – An annual national campaign to promote suicide prevention awareness during September.
  • World Suicide Prevention Day – Every year on September 10th, the world remembers those affected by suicide, promotes awareness, and focuses on efforts to direct treatment to those who need it most.
  • National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week – The Monday through Sunday surrounding World Suicide Prevention Day to raise awareness and share resources and stories.
  • #BeThe1To – A national campaign to change the conversation from suicide to suicide prevention by encouraging people take five action steps: ask, be there, keep them safe, help them connect, and follow up.
  • Project 2025 – A nationwide initiative to reduce the annual rate of suicide in the U.S. by 20% by 2025.

Implementation Considerations

Messaging is extremely important in suicide prevention. Public awareness campaigns should follow guidelines for talking about suicide and best practices for reporting on suicide. The words and messages used should be clear and should not sensationalize or normalize suicide. Some commonly used terms may not be helpful for prevention and may increase stigma, such as the phrase “committed suicide.” It is also important to avoid scare tactics which have proven to be ineffective public health messaging. Programs should use neutral and compassionate language to facilitate dialogue, like the phrases offered by the Language Matters initiative. A suicide prevention expert can provide input on language and wording choices for campaigns.

The Framework for Successful Messaging, from the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention, is a research-based resource that outlines considerations when messaging to the public about suicide. It includes information to develop an effective strategy; highlight a positive narrative; follow guidelines for specific goals, populations, channels, settings, topics, and other areas; and communicate safely to avoid content that is potentially harmful or undermines prevention. For example, since firearms are typically the most used method for suicide in rural areas, rural communities can focus their education and awareness campaigns around preventing firearm suicides. Campaign messages can address safe storage of firearms in the home and temporary relocation of firearms for someone who is at-risk. Developing these messages in collaboration with leaders and members of the gun-owning community can ensure they will be well received by most gun owners.

Program Clearinghouse Examples

Resources to Learn More

A Guide to Using Facebook to Promote Suicide Prevention and Mental Illness Stigma Reduction
Document
Provides the tools to implement a suicide prevention campaign on Facebook that enables local communities to discuss mental illness, recognize the signs and symptoms of suicide risk, and apply local resources. Includes information about safety related to suicide prevention topics on social media.
Organization(s): County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency
Date: 11/2014

Making Health Communication Programs Work: A Planner’s Guide
Document
Offers a practical approach for planning and implementing a health communication program regardless of topic, audience, geographic extent, or budget. Outlines steps that can be adapted to meet the needs of a specific program and offers suggestions on ways to modify the process.
Organization(s): National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute

Social Media Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention
Document
Offers advice for organizations and individuals conveying information on social media addressing mental health and suicide topics intended to reduce stigma, encourage help-seeking behavior, promote suicide prevention, and reduce suicide contagion within a vulnerable population.
Organization(s): The Entertainment Industries Council, TEAM Up (Tools for Entertainment and Media)
Date: 08/2017

Speaking Out About Suicide
Document
Lists essential tips on how individuals impacted by suicide can share their story safely to best let others know they are not alone, and avoid the risk of contagion.
Organization(s): American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)