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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

Challenges and Recommendations for Evaluating Suicide Prevention Programs: State and Tribal Evaluators Community of Learning
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)
Date: 2/2016