Evaluation Challenges for Suicide Prevention Programs
Evaluating suicide prevention programs can be challenging because suicide is a relatively rare event, suicide attempts are not reported consistently, there is a two-year lag
in suicide reporting, and it is hard to know whether changes in suicides or suicide attempts are a direct result
of the program that is being evaluated. In addition, suicide is a sensitive topic, and collecting data can be
intrusive, insensitive, and a breach of privacy if not done in a planned, thoughtful, empathetic manner.
Federally funded projects that involve research projects with human subjects require review by an Institutional
Review Board, which helps ensure proper measures are taken to keep data private and secure in
data collection and evaluation.
Rural suicide prevention programs may face challenges in allocating time and resources for evaluation. First,
programs frequently have multiple components that require their own evaluation in addition to a general
evaluation of the entire program. However, time and funding can limit the ability to conduct individual
evaluation in detail. Furthermore, because grant funding often requires programs to report on specific measures,
some program components may take priority for evaluation over others.
It can be challenging to determine the impact of a suicide prevention program on the number of suicide deaths or
attempts, particularly in a rural community where rates may be disproportionately high but numbers are low.
Rural communities may use other measures to assess impact, such as building resiliency, community connectedness,
coping skills, and improvements in mental health. Even so, it can be difficult to directly attribute
improvements in these measures to a suicide prevention program. Selecting the evaluation design that best removes external impacts
and draws results most closely produced by the program is important to a successful evaluation.
Resources to Learn More
and Recommendations for Evaluating Suicide Prevention Programs: State and Tribal Evaluators Community of
Discusses lessons learned by tribal and state suicide prevention grant evaluators and details potential
challenges to consider when evaluating a suicide prevention program. Offers recommendations used by evaluators
to overcome these challenges and includes related case studies.
Organization(s): Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC)