Communities need strong leaders from many types of organizations who have the power and the trust from others to get buy-in and create change. For example, leaders should be individuals whose lives have been impacted by suicide, those who come from the fields of public health and mental health, as well as people from other types of organizations, such as schools, businesses, faith communities, and the military. You may need to help these leaders build their suicide prevention capacity, that is, their ability to address problems and carry out possible solutions to reduce suicide. This could be done through training, putting their learning into practice, and collaborating with others who are active in suicide prevention.
Ideally a suicide prevention coalition will be formed before any programs are launched. However, many times suicide prevention efforts are already taking place in a community. If this is the case, take steps to involve the groups already doing suicide prevention programming into your coalition. Following are steps to identify leaders and partners if there is no coalition or if you need to engage additional partners.
Create a list of individuals and organizations that have a vested interest in suicide prevention in your community and state. The worksheets Find Out More About Partners and Identify the Right Partners may be useful as you go through this process. To determine who to bring into your efforts, consider the following questions:
For example, a community may be struggling with increases in adult male and veteran suicides. When forming a group to address this issue, the community could look to bring together traditional suicide prevention leaders, such as the director of a local community mental health center (CMHC). The community could also engage more nontraditional leaders who directly represent the groups most at risk, such as the CEO of a local factory employing many adult men, a local VFW post commander, and a veteran who is a suicide attempt survivor and able to provide insights on the needs and culture of middle-aged men struggling with thoughts of suicide.
The leaders on your list who are essential to your local efforts will depend on your needs. From your list, identify the trusted community organizations that support people most at risk. Involving them will strengthen the outreach, diversity of viewpoints, commitment, ownership of local suicide prevention efforts, and possible connection to resources. The worksheet Prioritize Your Partners may be helpful to use.
Identify state-level suicide prevention advocacy groups, statewide nonprofits, and state government offices who can support your efforts. Most states have a coalition, nonprofit, or agency charged with leading suicide prevention efforts.
Discussing your unique community needs and plans with the statewide groups and organizations will help align your efforts with larger statewide initiatives to maximize your impact. You will also learn about any state sources of funding, technical assistance, or other resources available to support local suicide prevention efforts.
For a list of your state’s key suicide prevention partners, visit your state’s page at sprc.org/states. This page includes contact information for your state suicide prevention leads as well as a list of key local suicide prevention organizations.
Reach out to the identified community leaders with a specific request. Before reaching out, it is important to determine why you want to involve each possible leader and how you can involve them in the effort.
For example, you may want to involve the CMHC director both because there is a need to strengthen access to mental health services in the community and because the director oversees local community grants that may be able to support future suicide prevention activities. You may also want to involve an LGBTQ advocate to ensure their perspective and network of contacts are engaged.
Reach out to these leaders with specific requests in mind, such as serving on a strategic planning task force, joining an existing prevention coalition, or helping launch a suicide prevention committee relevant to their role. Incorporate specific goals and ideas for collaboration into your outreach, emphasizing why they matter to the potential partner. SPRC’s Frame Your “Ask” worksheet may be helpful.
Once leaders agree to get involved, set up ways to have informal and formal collaboration on suicide prevention. Establishing collaboratory relationships may involve any of the following actions:
Often, when a community launches a suicide prevention network, it is because a high-profile suicide or cluster of suicides has occurred. When recent suicide death(s) have spurred community action, it is important to first acknowledge and address the loss or losses the community has experienced. Addressing these losses can help reduce the risk of further suicides, including in loss survivors.
Strategies for acknowledging the loss can include the following:
It is important that communities take time to heal from suicide losses before moving into suicide prevention planning and programming. If enough time is not given to grieve the loss before implementation of prevention efforts, community members can feel hurt and disrespected or have unresolved or undue guilt.
For in-depth guidance on how to support your community following suicide deaths, check out the resources listed below:
For additional information on how to involve individuals with lived experience related to suicide, visit SPRC’s Engaging People with Lived Experience: A Toolkit for Organizations.
Not all community leaders will start with the same understanding of recommended approaches to suicide prevention. Before agreeing on a vision, offer education for leaders to develop their skills and knowledge. Connect with your state’s suicide prevention leadership, such as a state suicide prevention coordinator or a coalition chair, to find potential educational resources for your members.
Include the following in partner education:
Additional key trainings could cover the warning signs of suicide and how to intervene with someone who is at risk. Educating partners will also help you create a long-term, shared understanding and vision for suicide prevention in your community, which is essential to aligning your partners’ efforts.
As you consider how to train local partners, don’t forget to reach out to your state suicide prevention contacts to see what resources, technical assistance, and training opportunities they have available. Many states offer online or in-person trainings, webinars, and conferences to their local communities on key suicide prevention topics. You can also visit SPRC’s Training webpage.
Making partnerships official can be a long-term process. Before this can happen, relationships need to be developed, trust established and maintained, and common goals identified through strategic planning.
Whenever possible, strengthen community suicide prevention efforts for the long term by creating a letter of commitment (LOC), memorandum of understanding (MOU), financial contracts or grants, and/or an ordinance that empowers a local suicide prevention council. For more information on sustaining coalitions, see the Sustainability element.
What are common tools used to formalize partnerships?
To learn more about first steps to develop partnerships for suicide prevention, visit SPRC’s Partnerships and Collaboration webpage and download the worksheets. There are separate worksheets for an initial collaboration meeting, keeping members involved and actively participating, creating an MOU, and more.