In the wake of Robin William’s death from suicide, there have been many posts and messages circulating about suicide. While most of these sentiments are well-meaning, it is possible to actually perpetuate certain misconceptions and stigmas about mental illness and depression, leading to a negative impact on those who may be most vulnerable. The Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention offers some great pointers on “promoting the positive in the form of actions, solutions, successes, or resources” as seen below:
What is the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Framework for Successful Messaging?
The Framework is a research-based resource that outlines four key factors to consider when developing public messages about suicide:
The central resource for the Framework is this website, SuicidePreventionMessaging.org (link is external).
The Framework was created by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention as part of its priority to change the public conversation about suicide. For background on the Action Alliance priority, see How does the Framework “Change the Conversation?”
Who is the Framework for?
It’s for anyone who is messaging to the public about suicide and suicide prevention. This includes, for example:
- Suicide prevention organizations and projects
- Government officials
- Mental health organizations
- Community-based organizations
- Institutions conducting suicide prevention activities, including colleges, schools, workplaces, and faith communities
- Advocacy groups
- Individuals speaking to the public about their personal experiences, including survivors of suicide attempts, survivors of suicide loss, and consumers of mental health services
The Framework initiative complements important and ongoing efforts to promote safer coverage of suicide in the news and entertainment media.
What do you mean by “public messaging?”
“Public messaging” is defined broadly as any communications released into the public domain. Examples include:
- Education and awareness campaigns or materials (posters, PSAs, flyers, giveaways, etc.)
- Organizational websites
- Fundraising appeals
- Publicity for events and observances
- Social media
- Press releases, media interviews
- Public presentations
- Publicly-available advocacy materials
- Any other public-facing messages or materials
All of our messages and materials contribute to the public’s perceptions about suicide and suicide prevention.
What isn’t public messaging?
The Framework addresses only public messaging. It is not intended to address other important types of communications that relate to suicide, including:
- Private conversations
- Doctor-patient interactions
- Interactions with individuals in crisis or who you think might be suicidal
- One-on-one conversations with legislators or policy makers
- Talking in support groups or other therapeutic settings
- Training delivered to professional audiences, e.g. clinicians
- Reporting by the news media
Not looking for guidance on public messaging? See resources for other types of suicide prevention communications.
Why was the Framework developed?
The background research section summarizes the research literature and background work that led to the Framework. In brief, we found that:
- Resources exist to improve news and entertainment coverage about suicide (“the media”), but little guidance has been available for others communicating publicly about suicide (“the messengers.”) The Framework fills that gap.
- Some prevention messages violate safe messaging guidelines, such as portraying means or talking about suicide in a way that normalizes it, i.e. makes it seem more common than it actually is.
- Public messaging about suicide often has focused more on describing the problem than on conveying concrete actions or solutions. This unbalanced picture contributes to a harmful social narrative suggesting that trying to prevent suicide is hopeless and no one recovers from suicidal thinking. Because the media often perpetuates these negative and inaccurate narratives, it is even more important that the prevention field counter them.
- Suicide prevention messaging would benefit from adhering to recommendations from the broader communications literature, including:
- Defining a clear purpose for communications before crafting the message itself
- Designing messaging as one component of a broader suicide prevention plan
- Promoting specific behaviors in defined audiences
- Using information about the audience to design more effective messages
- Choosing delivery channels that match the message and audience
- Assessing message success
- The suicide prevention field is not taking advantage of the many extant best practice guidelines that can and should be used when developing messaging related to particular goals (e.g., stigma reduction), populations (e.g. LGBT populations), channels (e.g., social media), and other areas. The “Guidelines” section of this website provides links to many such resources.
What is the purpose of the Framework?
Our background work revealed that the most successful messaging will be shaped by at least four key factors. The Framework brings these together:
- Strategy involves planning and focusing messages, so they are as effective as possible.
- Safety is avoiding content that is unsafe.
- Positive Narrative means ensuring that the collective voice of the field is “promoting the positive” in the form of actions, solutions, successes, or resources.
- Guidelines means using any existing guidance or best practices that apply.
The Washington Post also offered some great insight into how to prevent a phenomenon called Suicide Contagion that can be particularly prevalent amongst teens who are suffering from depression.
Ultimately the goal is to save lives through raising awareness and promoting resources that send a message of hope to anyone affected by these treatable illnesses.