Unity Key Area 2:


Working with Community Coalitions and Advisory Groups

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

Now that you know advisory groups, coalitions, task forces, or other similar groups are key to comprehensive community suicide prevention, this key area will help you work well with them. These groups provide a structure that lets partners identify their unique roles in prevention and coordinate activities with other partners. Coalitions and advisory groups can also contribute to comprehensive suicide prevention in the following ways:

  • Providing feedback on strategic plans, e.g., through surveys, written feedback, and in-person meetings
  • Making sure activities fit with the culture(s) of community members
  • Communicating about the prevention efforts and suicide itself in ways that make sense for the particular community(s)
  • Providing a way for people from many parts of the community (including those with personal or lived experience of suicide) to get involved in activities
  • Helping gain support for suicide prevention activities and ensuring support over the long term

Throughout this toolkit, we use the term “coalition,” but the information and steps also apply to advisory groups and task forces.

Coalition members can include:

  • Concerned and caring community members, including individuals with lived experience, that is, people who have had personal experience with suicide, such as suicide attempt survivors or people who have lost someone to suicide
  • Members of community-based organizations, including local crisis centers
  • Representatives and leaders from public and private organizations, including health and behavioral health care systems, schools, college campuses, workplaces, and the business community
  • First responders, such as law enforcement and emergency medical technicians
  • Faith leaders
  • Representatives from justice and corrections systems
  • Academic partners
  • News media, for example, print, TV, and blogs
  • Individuals representing and working with populations who are underserved and/or who have a high risk for suicide
  • Advocates for changes in policies, systems, and environments that will help prevent and reduce suicide

Your list of key community partners may include additional individuals and types of organizations not included here. It is important to have members from various parts of the community, those who come from diverse geographic areas, and those who represent a range of types of people. Make sure to include people who come from groups that have a higher risk for suicide (based on the data you have access to) and those with lived experience. Your efforts will also be enhanced if the individuals have a wide variety of skills, expertise, and resources.

This key area focuses on building coalitions. For more information about maintaining coalitions over the long term, see Sustainability Key Area 1: Maintaining Sustained Partner Commitment.

Key Steps

Identify local coalitions or other related groups

Identify whether any suicide prevention coalitions or other related groups already exist in your community. Related groups might include mental health awareness coalitions, substance misuse prevention task forces, or community wellness groups. Your state suicide prevention leaders may be able to help connect you.

If a suicide prevention coalition exists in your community, meet with the leadership from the beginning. If other related groups exist in your community, meet with their leadership to discuss options for incorporating suicide prevention as a focus within the groups’ efforts. If no groups exist, or if existing ones are not able to include suicide prevention, take steps to launch a suicide prevention coalition. If a group already exists and is interested in incorporating suicide prevention, Steps 2 and 3 below still apply.

Ask community leaders to serve on a coalition

Ask the community suicide prevention leaders whom you recruited in Unity Key Area 1: Identifying Leaders and Partners and Building Their Capacity to commit to serving on a coalition. A key to successfully maintaining the group over time is to have many community leaders participate.

Broaden the coalition

The size of the coalition should be determined by the needs, activities, and availability of community representatives. But it is also important to consider the types of people, organizations, and parts of the community that are missing among the group’s members and expand beyond the initial group of suicide prevention leaders. Be sure to include people with lived experience and those of different cultural backgrounds. Also make sure that people who identify as part of groups your data show are at higher risk are well represented and make efforts to authentically engage all members. Include staff from organizations that work with those key groups as well.

Once your coalition is formed, list the members who are from or who work with your populations of focus in the Strategic Planning Worksheet, Section 1, Row 3.

Since coalition membership will naturally ebb and flow over time, intentionally seek out new and different partners over the lifetime of the coalition to maintain its strength.

For additional guidance on engaging divers members in your coalition, see Fit Key Area 2: Involving Diverse Populations.

Create coalition structures and roles

Coalitions will be most effective when members are given different options for possible involvement. Creating structures, roles, responsibilities, and expectations, if they do not already exist, will help to spread out ownership of suicide prevention activities across partners. Members may take on roles through a vote, assignment, or volunteering depending on what works best for your group.

A coalition often is supported or coordinated by a backbone organization, which can help with logistics and keeping people on track. This could be a health department, government agency, or private organization. 

Coalitions often include structures such as an executive committee and subcommittees focused on different activities, parts of the community, and populations. The executive committee can provide leadership roles for suicide prevention, including (but not limited to) a chair, a co-chair, a secretary, and a treasurer. Subcommittees require their own leaders and membership, which results in increased leadership opportunities and wider community member engagement in areas of specific interest.

For example, two coalition members—a school superintendent and a veteran—may not be the right fit for the executive committee, but they might chair the youth suicide prevention and the lethal means subcommittees. This kind of coalition setup helps members stay involved and gives them a sense of ownership over different pieces of suicide prevention (see the Integration element).

Additionally, members will serve most effectively if leadership roles have specific expectations and lengths of time. For example, those serving as subcommittee leads might be expected to host independent meetings with their subcommittee membership or carry out a specific action item from the community’s suicide prevention plan. Executive committee members might be asked to serve one-year terms and subcommittee leads to serve two year-terms or until achievement of their specific activity or goal.

Getting input from the leadership and members on the coalition structures, roles, responsibilities, and expectations will increase participation in the coalition.

Set regular meeting times

Once a structure has been created, set regular meeting times for the coalition members. For example, meetings of all the coalition members could happen bimonthly or quarterly, and subcommittees and leadership committees could be asked to meet monthly.

During coalition meetings, make sure to provide ongoing chances for members to build knowledge and skills through trainings, presentations, and events. There should also be time for both subgroups and the leadership committee to provide updates on ongoing activities. Coalitions are ideal groups to lead, inform, and carry out the other six elements of Community-Led Suicide Prevention.

To help prevention efforts continue over the long term, make sure the coalition has a consistent team that will coordinate and guide activities now and in the future (see the Sustainability element).

For guidance on launching a community suicide prevention coalition or an advisory board, visit Community Tool Box: Coalition Building I: Starting a Coalition.