Don’t you feel better when someone says, “You too? I thought I was the only one!” An instant connection is formed, and whatever ailed you suddenly makes you feel less alone, right?

This idea of connection is a central theme in many of our consumer-facing campaigns. By inserting our clients, products, or resources into the conversations already happening, we help raise awareness and visibility, connecting them to their target audience—a “successful” communications program!

But for people who have attempted or are considering attempting suicide, perhaps those for whom it is most critical to inspire the “me too” conversation, speaking publicly can be discouraged. “[People working in suicide prevention] always told us not to talk about our own experience, like they were afraid to tip us over the edge or something. Honestly, we’re the ones who know what works and what doesn’t,” said Heidi Bryan, who publicly speaks out about her suicide attempts, to the New York Times.

As healthcare communicators, when we are given a new project, challenge, or account, one of the very first things we do is seek to humanize the problem. We work closely with leading specialists, clinical trial investigators, medical centers, and our clients to try and find “patient success stories”—testaments to the efficacy of the product, device, or company. But when the product we need to “sell” is life, the game changes.

When we began working with The Jed Foundation, a not-for-profit organization working to prevent suicide and protect the emotional health of teenagers and colleges students, we had to learn how to foster connection in a different way, hyperconscious about how we “talked” to someone possibly considering ending their life. Essentially, we had to learn how to communicate the value of life.

We didn’t recreate the dialogue—students, parents, teachers, and friends were already having—or infiltrate their online communities with rules or warnings. We “communicated life” by showcasing the Foundation’s resources, unbiased support, and most importantly, provided tools to help people more effectively communicate about suicide. We talked about The Jed Foundation’s partnership with The Clinton Family Foundation and Facebook, which created an online guide about warning signs found on social media. We encouraged discussion! We allowed discussion to happen organically, and made the Foundation a partner, not a pusher.

I’ve written before about communicating with compassion around taboo topics. But the key word in that sentence is communicating—fostering a safe, respectable space for people to connect. The outcome could be life-saving.

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Elaine Andrecovich is an Assistant Vice President with MakHealth. She leads media relations efforts for The Jed Foundation

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