Fit Key Area 2:


Involving Diverse Populations

If you are interested in more in-depth information, click on the links provided throughout this key area.

To effectively reach all areas of your community with suicide prevention, build diverse representation and ways for genuine involvement in your efforts. Most importantly, encourage community members to be active on your coalition. To do this, set up multiple ways for them to be involved with conducting assessments, strategic planning, and carrying out prevention activities. Focus on getting buy-in and participation in all three of these areas. Their involvement will help you to not only increase your reach but also to effectively prevent suicide in your community.

Note that this key area intersects quite a bit with the Unity element, so you will need to refer back to it.

Key Steps

Develop active partner engagement

An important way to develop diverse partner engagement is by forming and maintaining a community suicide prevention coalition. The coalition provides a structure for community engagement and for diverse partners to have their voices heard. Be sure to develop strong representation on your coalition from a variety of community settings, regions, and demographic groups. Visit the Unity element for additional information on forming a diverse and actively engaged coalition.

Developing active engagement goes beyond just having a suicide prevention coalition. It is not enough to check off a box that says a certain number of community partners from diverse groups are sitting on a board or coalition. Instead, foster connection among members and create a culture of respect.

To foster a sense of connection among members, help them to get to know one another on a personal and cultural level. This includes learning about and understanding members’ unique cultures, personal contexts, belief systems, perspectives, and resources. Activities such as meeting icebreakers, annual retreats, and celebratory dinners can help.

To create a culture of respect for everyone’s contributions and experiences, consider doing the following:

  • Acknowledge the differences in lived experiences and unmet mental health needs between populations that have influence and power and those that do not
  • Take into account cultural factors and strengths of the population of interest when creating ways to participate
  • Develop approaches and actions collaboratively while learning from diverse partners in a humble way
  • Involve members in work groups and executive committees and collaboratively develop roles and responsibilities that they could take on within the coalition and within their own communities
  • Ensure messages and materials are responsive to the language, culture, and accessibility needs of your community. (See Creating Linguistically and Culturally Competent Suicide Prevention Materials for more information on how to do this.)
  • Communicate and follow up with all partners on a regular basis about progress, barriers, and outcomes

Adapted from Blueprint for Youth Suicide Prevention, pages 5–6.

Acknowledge different experiences with historical trauma and inequity

Acknowledge and increase awareness about the ways that historical trauma, discrimination, prejudice, and ongoing health inequity may play a part in suicide risk. For example, if your community is struggling with Indigenous youth suicides, consider the impact of trauma passed on from earlier generations. The forced loss of cultural traditions experienced by prior generations can contribute to a lack of connection and meaning in life. These historical and cultural traumas can be risk factors for suicide. But be aware that each community’s unique subpopulations may be different. To learn more about forced loss of cultural traditions by Native Americans, see the summary of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report. For information on how historical and cultural trauma impacts suicide, see this section of the Prevention Institute’s Suicide Prevention Modules.

According to the World Health Organization, “Health inequities are differences in health status or in the distribution of health resources between different population groups, arising from the social conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.” One step a coalition can take to bring together diverse partners is acknowledging different experiences and perspectives.

Individuals in a community have shared traditions, values, and experiences because they live in the same area. But they can also experience stark past or present differences in income, housing security, discrimination, and prejudice. Because these factors can affect health they are known as “social determinants of health (SDOH).” SDOHs influence how people see issues like suicide. To learn more about SDOH, see “Social Determinants of Health: Know What Affects Health.”

It is key to acknowledge the influence of SDOH on coalition members’ understanding of suicide prevention. Your coalition can facilitate this by formally recognizing the impact of discrimination and inequities on your community. To address inequities, consider the following:

  • Have members identify ways to reach groups often overlooked in prevention efforts
  • Actively try to involve community organizations that are focused on reducing discrimination and inequities

Finally, set aside time in coalition meetings to discuss how these differences can be addressed in strategic plans. Also think about how they might affect the ways in which community members accept different prevention approaches and activities. This discussion will help coalition members acknowledge, respect, and incorporate each other’s experiences. See Step 3 on this page, Engage people with lived experience, to learn more.

Although your coalition probably cannot address all of your community’s inequities, it can intentionally involve community partners who specifically seek to address them. For example, your coalition might partner with the local LGBTQ support group to raise awareness of the link between discrimination and suicide risk. Or you might work with organizations focused on preventing adverse childhood experiences to develop prevention programming.

Engage people with lived experience

Individuals with “lived experience” have experienced a suicide attempt, suicidal thoughts and feelings, or a suicide loss in their lives. They can help inform and strengthen your community’s efforts because of the following perspectives:

  • Their experiences with losing a loved one
  • Their personal experiences with finding hope and healing after a suicidal crisis
  • Their knowledge of the resources, support, and help that can make a difference

Here are a few ways you can engage individuals with lived experience:

  • Ask individuals with lived experience to join your suicide prevention coalition
  • Provide the opportunity for individuals with lived experience to give feedback on resources, campaigns, or materials developed by your coalition
  • Ask for individuals with lived experience who are prepared to share their stories to join in discussions and trainings on suicide prevention
  • Ask individuals with lived experience to engage in other work groups, committees, or opportunities available in your coalition

As you incorporate voices of lived experience, be sensitive to each person’s readiness to share their story. This readiness may change over time. A community member who just lost a child to suicide may not be ready to tell their story for years. But others may want to engage in advocacy right away. Similarly, a community member who survived a suicide attempt may be passionate about suicide prevention but not feel comfortable telling their story to the public. Others may want to tell the world. Be respectful of each person’s unique journey to healing.

Encourage individuals with lived experience to frame their stories to provide hope. This includes the message that suicide can be prevented and that hope and help are available. Encourage them to follow the Framework for Successful Messaging when crafting their messages (find it here). This includes clear guidelines on not including the suicide method or location in stories and on promoting a positive narrative. Also, direct community members to specific messaging guidance for individuals with lived experience. One example is the Guide for Sharing Lived Experience.

For additional information on involving individuals with lived experience in your efforts, visit SPRC’s About Lived Experience webpage.

Identify roles for diverse community partners

The opportunities for different community members to participate in suicide prevention are endless. They can include everything from working in the background to conducting research to taking leadership. A wide variety of skill sets, interests, and activities are needed. When community partners play specific roles in suicide prevention, their sense of ownership of the cause is increased, and the workload is divided among more individuals.

Some common ways for community members to participate in suicide prevention activities include the following:

  • Attending public events, such as, rallies, community hearings, or fundraising events
  • Donating money or helping with a fundraising effort
  • Staffing the coalition “office” (whether a formal office or a conference room in an organization’s building)
  • Answering phones/making phone calls, putting together mass mailings, or sending emails
  • Conducting research, writing grant proposals, or handling correspondence
  • Serving on committees or work groups that focus on specific problems or activities
  • Participating in strategic planning
  • Taking leadership roles in the suicide prevention coalition
  • Providing postvention services, trainings, and resources to the community, schools, organizations, and individuals (see Unity 1, Step 4: Address the needs of the group related to suicide loss (postvention))