Tag Archives: communication

TalkING About Suicide: A PR Strategy for raising awareness of a difficult subject

The NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention, spearheaded by the Brain Injury Association of NH, was recently launched to raise awareness about the issue of suicide among members of vulnerable populations like people with brain injuries, people with disabilities, Veterans, first responders, police and the elderly.  Their work complements the efforts of other NH organizations focusing on suicide prevention, including the NH State Suicide Prevention Council, Headrest and AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, NH Chapter).

They launched an educational website during Suicide Prevention Awareness month (September of 2021) NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention (zerosuicidesnh.org), using a series of blogs that offer stories of hope and resilience “Play It Where It Lies”: KC Christensen and Life After Brain Injury — NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention (zerosuicidesnh.org), and resources Taking Care of Our NH Veterans:  Resources For Those Experiencing TBI, PTSD and Suicide Ideation — NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention (zerosuicidesnh.org)

These blog posts are used to generate traffic on the website, build interest in joining the coalition and they are frequently shared with NH opinion leaders who have an interest in the suicide issue.  The posts are strategically timed to sync up with a triggering event (e.g. the January 2022 release of the book “Unthinkable” by Rep. Jamie Raskin) or a specific time of year (e.g. holiday depression at Christmas, Veterans Day etc.)

Here is the actual blog:

Representative Jamie Raskin, in his new book “Unthinkable:  Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy,” finds catharsis in talking about the death of his son by suicide.  His son Tommy’s death came just days before the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 – making a dark time even darker. “I realized I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure out what had happened or I could try to record it as quickly as possible and have a conversation with my family, my friends and my constituents in the country about it.” 

Suicide is uncomfortable to talk about – whether we have lost someone who died by suicide or if we fear a friend or family member is considering suicide.  Most of us want to know – what do we say?  And what should we do?

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin released his new book, Unthinkable:  Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy, on Jan. 4th of this year.  Raskin says writing about the loss of his son, who died by suicide a year ago, has helped him cope with the depths of his grief and enabled him to talk about it; which has enabled him to keep his son’s memory and spirit alive.  

Raskin says his son Tommy “had a very highly refined moral sensitivity at a young age – something we appreciated and were proud of.  But then it began to merge in with some depressive tendencies that showed up towards the end of college.”

While Raskin does not blame COVID-19 for his son’s suicide, he acknowledges this chapter in our history has been an enormously isolating and demoralizing period for young people across the country…and especially for those who already had a mental or emotional health struggle.  “I realized I could spend the rest of my life trying to figure out what had happened, or I could try to record it as quickly as possible and have a conversation with my family, my friends and my constituents in the country about it – so I chose the latter.”

His book shines a spotlight on the issue of suicide – which touches many generations, not just youth.  Older adults are about 12% of the population but make up about 18% of the suicides according to Jerry Reed, PhD, Sr. VP/Practice Leadership at the Education Development Center, an organization that runs suicide prevention programs nationwide.  One factor may be that this group has access to lethal means such as firearms and medication.

Most of us want to know how to approach the topic of suicide – which is, let’s face it, an uncomfortable topic to raise.  What can we say or do that will be constructive in suicide prevention?  Here are a few ideas to consider:

  1. Share stories of hope, resiliency and recovery.   There are many stories of people who have been helped by a program or service, or who have overcome an obstacle and chosen life over suicide.  The NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention website features blogs that tell some of these stories; for example, the story of Jim Scott, who overcame a brain injury and substance use disorder to become an author.  Like Raskin, he too found catharsis in telling his story and sharing the message of hope with others: https://zerosuicidesnh.org/blog/more-than-a-speed-bump-brain-injury-rehabilitation-and-recovery
  2. Describe available programs, services and other resources.  It’s important to realize that you don’t have to solve the problem yourself – but you can play an important role in getting someone help.   The “Resources” section of the NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention website offers contact information for many NH-based and national organizations that have the expertise to help.
  3. Point the person to a suicide hotline where they can get immediate help.  Right now in NH, the number to call is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) … however, in July of 2022, 988 will be the new 3-digit number used nationwide as the National Suicide Prevention & Mental Health Crisis Hotline. https://zerosuicidesnh.org/blog/why-do-i-have-to-dial-603-before-every-call-now-the-change-that-could-help-save-a-life
  4. Pay attention to potential signs of suicide.  Are you seeing an increased use of drugs or alcohol to escape depression?  Are you hearing references to self-harm in conversation?  Have you noticed behaviors like saying goodbyes, giving away prized possessions or making arrangements in the event of death?  For more information on recognizing signs and taking action that could save a life, visit: https://zerosuicidesnh.org/how-to-identify-and-help-a-person-considering-suicide
  5. Ask-Listen-Safeguard.  As difficult as it is to ask the question, “have you had thoughts of suicide?” It is a question that could save a life.  Practice saying it out loud in a way that’s comfortable before you have the conversation with the person you are concerned about.  Alternative: “Sometimes when people are struggling, they have thoughts of suicide.  Have you ever had thoughts of suicide?”  This opens the door for the next step:  Listen.  Your role here is to listen, not to solve their problems.  Show empathy and assure them they are loved.  Lastly, safeguard.  What are the steps that need to be taken right now to keep them safe?  Calling a hotline?  Removing lethal means (like firearms or medications) from the home?  Connecting them to a mental health counselor?


“Engagement” is, as we like to say, the “flavor of the month” amongst organization leadership, employee communication and human resource professionals.

Getting an engagement score helps an organization know how they compare with other organizations like theirs as well as win headlines for “best places to work” in magazines and newspapers. What it doesn’t do is tell leadership anything about what might be wrong and what to do about it. Does the score reflect a problem with trust? transparency? empowerment? teamwork? satisfaction? something else?

A team of public relations academics and professionals set out a few years ago to dissect employee engagement in order to understand what are the driving factors of employee relations, and what truly contributes toward building a workforce that is committed to and fully productive for the organization. Lead by Sean Williams of TruDigital Communications, Ohio, Julie O’Neil, Ph.D. of Texas Christian University, Michele Ewing, Ph.D. of Kent State and myself, along with 13 other international professionals and scholars, we sought to fully define Measurement Standards for the profession around employee relations.

A glimpse into the soon to be published paper, shows 22 Standards, broken down into three key categories:

 Outtakes — Whether employees received, paid attention to, comprehended or retained particular messages
 Outcomes — evidence of changes to or reinforcement of opinions, attitudes or behaviors
 Organizational Impact — Whether and how internal communication has influence organizational performance

What is NOT a category is outputs, what is generated as a result of a program or campaign, and now typically measured by the number of releases, brochure, posters, meetings held, etc. or the number of column inches generated. Outputs were discarded by our group because they show no impact, only production. Using these data points for measurement would be like rating your dentist’s effectiveness on the number of x-rays he took of your mouth to cure a toothache!

Next steps for the committee is to identify methods for measuring each of the 22 Standards — both by self-reporting (surveys) and observation (behavioral indicators already available in an organization). The committee hopes to work with three different organizations to test these standards and their measurement methods — Southwest Airlines is already on-board!

We expect the paper to be published soon, but if you are interested in a bootlegged copy of the 22 standards and their definitions, contact me at ssmith@jjwpr.com.


It is a time for new beginnings, fresh thinking, purging files and finding different ways of doing things.  If you’ve been managing your communications function for a while — or, if you’ve recently inherited the position and found yourself asking, “why are we doing what we’re doing?” – it is a good time for an audit.

The word “audit” is a bit daunting, but really what we’re talking about is an evaluation of what you’re doing now to see if it is:

  • in line with your organization’s goals… your communication department’s goals should be directly aligned with those of your organization
  • meeting the needs of your stakeholders, because if it isn’t, then why are you doing it?
  • driving knowledge and behaviors so that stakeholders act on what has been communicated

A communications audit examines what you are doing now to assess what’s working and not working for your critical audiences.  It helps focus on communications vehicles and messaging that has the greatest impact.

JJ&W asks the following questions when conducting a communication audit:

  1. What does your organization’s communication system look like?  We look at how communication is flowing from the top down, the bottom up and across the organization (laterally).  Do you have a good balance of one-way and two-way communication tools?
  2. What audiences are you reaching with each communication tool? Have you asked these audiences how they would like to be communicated with, or are you just bombarding them from all directions and hoping something sticks?
  3. Have you accounted for the changing demographics of your target audiences? If you’re a utility who is geared toward communication with the senior generation, have you thought about how you might change things up to reach the millennials who are becoming your customers – and will be with you for a long time to come?  Are you communicating in the right languages (not actual languages but idioms of that generation)?
  4. Are the key messages resonating with your audiences? Are those messages driving understanding and behavior?
  5. How effective are your digital communication tools, including social media? Are your target audiences using and responding? Are they clear on where to get their “need to know” vs. their “nice to know” communication?
  6. Do all your communications look like they come from the same organization? Do they have an easily-recognizable family look & feel that immediately lets audiences know where to find information?
  7. Have you gotten the perspectives of more than the senior management team? Have you talked to the front-liners who may not be sitting at desks with computers to find out how, and if, they’re getting the communication they need to do their job?

And if you want to leverage the real power of communications… how about some questions to probe the culture at your organization?  Do people perceive they can “fail forward” or are they fearful of taking risks that might result in punishment?  Do they feel communication is transparent, or does leadership hold things “close to the vest?”

This is an excellent time to clean out your “communications junk drawer” – get rid of anything that’s not working and fill in the gaps with effective methods and messages that are right for the stakeholders you are trying to reach.

Robin Schell/rschell@jjwpr.com /603/770-3607.