Lead

Suicide prevention efforts are more likely to succeed when spearheaded by experienced, capable leaders who combine knowledge of suicide prevention with skills in program administration, coalition building, goal setting, communication, and other foundational areas.

Recommendations

Maintain a dedicated leadership position

A strong foundation for state suicide prevention requires leadership from a designated person—whether he or she is a suicide prevention coordinator, director, branch or department manager, or another leader. Whenever possible, state leadership in suicide prevention should be a full-time position, focusing only on suicide prevention efforts.

The position should be supported by dedicated funding that allows for continuity and sustained efforts over time. Grant funding is not sufficient, as time-limited grants may create turnover or fluctuation in funding. One way to obtain more consistent funding is through state legislation that provides for a full-time state suicide prevention coordinator with an ongoing appropriation. If existing statutes already provide funding for a coordinator, any existing sunset clauses should be removed.

 

Dedicate core staff positions, training, and technology needed for all six essential functions

Core staffing. One person cannot have full responsibility for overseeing all aspects of implementing suicide prevention work. It must be done in collaboration with various partners (see Partner) and with support from dedicated core staff. The suicide prevention coordinator (or other designated leader) should be supported by a team of staff trained in both suicide prevention and specialized areas such as data management and analysis, program management, and training. SPRC’s Core Competencies for Suicide Prevention Program Managers provides additional detail on needed skills.

Depending on the geographic size and population of the state, these personnel should include regional coordinators, as well as a dedicated portion of time of an epidemiologist and a data manager. Additional support from administrative staff, even if just a portion of someone’s time, will facilitate execution of routine office tasks and free up the suicide prevention leader to focus on oversight and coordination of the statewide suicide prevention system. Lastly, access to an evaluator will help programs to identify and fix problems with delivery of efforts, as well as to measure impact.

Ongoing staff training and networking. To successfully lead suicide prevention activities, staff leading prevention efforts must continuously update their skills and new staff must be trained in suicide prevention and program management. In turn, these personnel play a key role in building the capacity of partners, local programs, and other stakeholders, including students, professionals, grassroots organizations, and the general public.

Connecting with other states’ suicide prevention leadership as well as national organizations (e.g., SPRC) will foster staff’s learning and support innovation. This might include, for example, supporting travel to conferences and sharing innovations from the state for others’ learning via conference presentations, webinars, or electronic documents created locally or by national organizations.

Technology. From delivering training and consultation remotely to distant areas of the state, to allowing partners to communicate easily, to storing and analyzing data, there are a variety of technological needs that will facilitate high-quality suicide prevention activities while reducing overall costs.

 

Develop capacity to respond to information requests from officials, communities, the media, and the general public.

A key function of state suicide prevention programs is to serve as a source of information for responding to requests for information from a wide range of stakeholders across the state, including legislators, state officials, and the media, as well as local community members and stakeholders. This requires being able to provide clarification and commentary on data and events, while also answering suicide prevention questions, whether through their own expertise or through connecting with researchers and other local or national experts.

 

To further strengthen your infrastructure

Establish formal connections between relevant government offices

This could be via memorandum of understanding/inter-agency agreement or a sitting task force. Such connections will:

  • Ensure shared understanding of the different systems, funding mechanisms and priorities (e.g., regional prevention networks, community mental health centers, various block grants)
  • Promote greater investment in a data-driven, public health approach to suicide prevention and the collection, use, and sharing of suicide prevention data
  • Coordinate related efforts (such as reducing access to lethal means of suicide and publicizing drug take-back programs, creating safe school environments and supporting bullying prevention policies, promoting mental health in immigrant communities, and treating people with co-occurring suicidality and substance misuse issues).

 

Build staff capacity to effectively communicate across audiences

As highlighted in the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Framework for Successful Messaging, effective suicide prevention communication should be strategic and recovery-oriented, and should pay attention to safety concerns. Soliciting feedback from individuals who have been personally impacted by suicide (people with “lived experience” or “lived expertise”) can help thoughtfully shape successful communication campaigns. State leaders should use these principles when crafting campaigns, presentations, and other materials. They should also educate spokespeople on ways to work with the media to avoid suicide contagion and reduce discrimination.

 

Develop division/agency commitment to spur cross-discipline collaboration and integrate programs across funding sources

Too often, suicide prevention and related efforts are siloed in different departments or separate offices within the same division. This may result in efforts that duplicate each other or go in conflicting directions.

To maximize efficiency and impact, senior leaders in the agency or division should drive collaboration between related disciplines across state agencies. Separate funding streams can benefit from big-picture coordination, ensuring that priority areas of need are addressed when seeking funding, as well as in program implementation. Internal and external champions and people with lived experience can help motivate leadership to prioritize suicide prevention across related sectors.