Step 2: Choose Long-Term Goals

Impossible becoming possible

In Step 1 of the strategic planning process, you used data and other information to help you better understand and describe the problem of suicide and its context in your state or community. In Step 2, you will use this information to identify realistic long-term goals.

A long-term goal is a broad statement that indicates your expectations of what should happen as a result of your suicide prevention activities. Well-written long-term goals should identify a specific group of people, a specific risk factor, or a specific circumstance or setting where you expect to see change.

Goals should be identified before selecting your prevention activities. You need to know where you want to go (your goals) before deciding how you will get there (your activities). Your goals will help you determine which specific activities to select.

For more information about Step 2 and to see it applied in a case study, visit SPRC’s online course A Strategic Planning Approach to Suicide Prevention.

How to Choose Long-Term Goals

Choose your long-term goals carefully. The following represent important criteria to consider in your selection process:


How serious or dangerous is the problem? Some problems only affect a relatively small number of people but have extremely serious consequences. For example, only a small number of people may jump from a bridge, but virtually everyone who jumps from a bridge dies or is seriously injured. A potential long-term goal might be to prevent people from jumping off a bridge since that could save lives.


How widespread is the problem? Some problems affect a large number of people in a specific population. For example, given the large number of white middle-aged and older men in the United States and their relatively high suicide rates, they make up a substantial proportion of people who die by suicide in the U.S. Long-term goals may focus on reducing suicide risk factors that affect a large population.


Does the problem represent a health disparity? A health disparity is “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage.”This means certain groups of people have systematically experienced greater obstacles to obtaining health and mental health care based on their:

  • racial or ethnic group
  • religion
  • socioeconomic status
  • age
  • mental health
  • cognitive, sensory, or physical disability
  • sexual orientation or gender identity
  • geographic location
  • other characteristics linked to discrimination or exclusion 

For example, American Indians/Alaska Natives have the highest suicide rate of any ethnic/racial group in the country. Long-term goals may focus on reducing disparities among population groups, like American Indians/Alaska Natives.


Are there resources that can be directed at the problem? Resources include concrete resources, such as funding and community mental health clinics, and intangible resources, such as social support. Availability of resources might be one consideration when selecting your long-term goal (s).


Do you know enough about the problem to take effective action? You may not be able to answer this question in Step 2. But if it eventually becomes apparent that the answer to this question is “no,” you may have to rethink your goal(s).

Deciding on a limited number of long-term goals can be challenging. Decisions about long-term goals should be made with input from local experts representing a variety of sectors, including those who can help implement suicide prevention activities and those who may benefit from the activities selected.


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). Healthy People 2020. Retrieved from