As described in the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, suicide prevention requires a multifaceted approach that focuses on risk and protective factors at individual, family, community, and societal levels. As a result, prevention efforts are more likely to succeed when they involve multiple partners from the public and private sectors to increase the capacity and effectiveness of suicide prevention efforts, as well as their reach and impact.
The benefits associated with these collaborations can include the following:
- Access to resources (including trained personnel, data, and funding)
- Increased ability to reach key populations, including underserved and high-risk groups
- Reduction of duplicative or conflicting efforts
- New opportunities to share knowledge and collaborate on program and policy efforts
Form a statewide coalition with broad public and private sector representation
There are several models of coalition structure and leadership to consider, including a self-run independent body, a state commission, and a group that has another organization (e.g., a nonprofit or the state lead organization) providing administrative support. Leadership development and any needed funding must be kept in mind in order to sustain the coalition. Written bylaws will help the group function smoothly. Lastly, if lobbying activities prohibit state officials from being coalition members, maintain two-way communication with key state legislators, the governor, and other elected officials who are champions for suicide prevention.
Diverse partners on a state coalition may include (but are not limited to) the following:
- State health or public health departments, particularly offices addressing topics such as injury and violence prevention, maternal and child health, behavioral health (if they have a division or office in this department), adolescent health, community health, and vital statistics
- State mental health and substance abuse agencies
- Other relevant state government agencies, such as those focusing on education, law enforcement, criminal justice, veterans’ services, minority health, health equity, unemployment, housing, social services, Medicaid, and child protection
- Health, mental health, and substance abuse providers, including large health care systems, hospitals, crisis centers, hospital associations, and first responders
- Military and veteran partners, such as National Guard post suicide prevention coordinators, Army and Air Force Reserves, Veterans Affairs Medical Centers’ suicide prevention teams
- State tribal liaison, or other Native American or Alaska Native tribal partner(s)
- Stakeholders and advocates, including representatives of higher risk groups, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organizations; and underserved populations, such as racial minority groups
- People personally impacted by suicide, such as suicide attempt and loss survivors, whose primary role is to represent that perspective
- Non-government organizations, such as schools, colleges, the faith community, and nonprofit organizations dedicated to health promotion
- Community-based organizations, including local crisis centers
- Private organizations and businesses
- Researchers and academic institutes
- Private foundations
- News media
- Others who represent key sectors in the state
Adopt a shared vision and language
When bringing together partners from diverse sectors, backgrounds, and goals, it is critical to develop a shared high-level vision for suicide prevention, such as agreeing to work toward implementing the state plan or a section of it, and to develop a common language. As described in Lead, suicide prevention leads often play a key role in helping to build partners’ capacity in suicide prevention basics. This includes, among other areas, describing terminology that is respectful of people impacted by suicide and using data to inform priorities and resource allocation.
Having a common vision and language will allow the coalition to develop a shared framework for action that specifies how different partners may participate. Many of the details can be worked out through the process of developing a state plan, but when working with a new partner, or in the interim between plan cycles, describing shared goals is crucial. A useful resource for this is SPRC’s Virtual Learning Lab: State Suicide Prevention Partnerships module.
To further strengthen your infrastructure
Build partner capacity to integrate suicide prevention efforts
Having a breadth of partners can provide access to new sectors that can help advance suicide prevention across the state. Leveraging this access by building partners’ own capacity and embedding suicide into their structures and policies will provide added reach without increasing staffing levels, as well as support sustainability of efforts. The Action Alliance’s Transforming Communities report, Unity section, details additional ways that partners can support suicide prevention sustainability.
Develop written agreements detailing each partner’s commitment
While a handshake agreement may be seen as sufficient as long as both parties’ staff stay the same, putting details into writing will not only help maintain agreements through changes in leadership and other personnel, but will also help partners clarify intentions and hold each entity accountable. Examples of written agreements include memoranda of understanding, memoranda of agreement, and data sharing agreements.