AB Thinks  →  18th November 2021

Suicide Prevention: Reflecting on an award-winning campaign

***The content on this page and in this episode of The Internal Comms Podcast may be triggering for those who have experience of suicide.***

In Episode 53 of The Internal Comms Podcast, Katie Macaulay spoke to Karen Coleman and Naomi Sutcliffe, co-creators of the award-winning ‘Check-in’ campaign for staff suicide prevention across the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership area.

Karen is an award-winning communication professional with 25 years’ experience, who recently took up the post of the Associate Director for the Partnership.

Naomi works within the Southwest Yorkshire Patient Safety Support Team, is an approved LivingWorks suicide prevention intervention trainer and SafeTALK trainer, and has amassed a wealth of knowledge across the health sector since qualifying as a nurse 27 years ago.

Together, they were part of the team that created the Check-In campaign, which launched on 4 February. The campaign has three main components: educating and raising awareness of suicide; spotting the signs and preventing suicide by checking in with colleagues about their feelings; and finally, providing training and resources.

Since its launch, 450 organisations have signed up to support the campaign, and it went on to win the Internal Comms category of the National Health Service’s Communicate Awards.

Its work is absolutely vital. According to the World Health Organization, more than 700,000 people die due to suicide every year. That’s one person every 40 seconds. In the UK, research by the Samaritans suggests suicide affects more men than women, with men aged 45-49 most at risk. And stigma is one of the key barriers to prevention, stopping people getting the help they need and undermining public health responses.

Check-In was designed to change that. As Karen explains, ‘normalising the conversation, you’re putting the emphasis on looking out for each other, checking on each other was very much at the heart of the campaign.’ Specifically, it was intended to go beyond awareness and give people the knowledge and resources needed to do something.

It was launched for the 100,000 colleagues of the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership, which represents a diverse range of public sector, community, charity, and voluntary bodies, all involved in health and social care in the UK. The team chose to focus on staff due to the increased rates of suicide among health professionals.

But it’s not just for individuals, as organisations are encouraged to take leadership on internal suicide prevention by helping to improve suicide awareness, looking at the training and the development needs of all staff, and understanding how employees might be affected personally or professionally.

The campaign is ongoing, and individuals and organisations from all sectors can access the resources and training to tackle this issue themselves. For example, Zero Suicide Alliance’s suicide awareness training takes just twenty minutes to provide individuals with the skills and confidence to help someone who may be considering suicide.

Suicide prevention might not be on your comms agenda, but throughout the discussion Karen and Naomi share their insights on how they designed, tested and delivered this sensitive and powerful campaign to make sure it was as effective as possible. That advice will be valuable to all IC professionals.

For Karen and Naomi, key elements of the campaign’s success were its evidence-based approach, testing constantly to ensure the message was right, the input from experts, and co-production with people who have lived experience of suicide. Their feelings and experiences were always at the heart of the campaign.

Don’t underestimate the time it takes
It’s not about a quick-fix, and some campaigns, like Check-In, need to be very sensitively designed. It can take months or even years to create a successful campaign, to keep testing the visuals and information.

The importance of testing
The Check-In campaign was built through a near-constant feedback loop. People with lived experience of suicide were invited to participate in focus groups that provided insights at the very start of the campaign, but also fed back later as the messaging and materials were pulled together.

Evidence and expertise
From the very beginning, Karen and Naomi explain, it’s about getting the evidence together, looking at what you already know and identifying gaps. There were plenty of statistics on the devastating rates of suicide in the population as a whole and among health professionals in particular, but little on the real people affected.

Getting expertise in the room was essential, particularly when information has to be checked by professionals with more specialised expertise than a comms team might have. The Check-In team brought together an insight group made of suicide prevention specialists, public health colleagues, colleagues from councils, colleagues from Healthwatch, who all brought their experience of suicide into one place.

Real people at the heart
Insight is king, Karen emphasised. But having people’s personal experience at the heart is queen. The team behind Check-In also did a set of focus and insight groups with health and care colleagues from across all sectors in West Yorkshire, which included care home workers, doctors, nurses, and people who work in councils.

Those who attended had been impacted by suicide, or had had moments in their lives where they had considered it. Much of the momentum behind the campaign came from the awareness that feelings of suicide are an everyday reality for a lot of people we walk past in the street, talk to in a pub, or speak to in meetings, but we might never know it.

Organisations like Samaritans and smaller grassroots suicide prevention groups were brought in to support members of the focus groups to ensure that the process of discussing the campaign was not retraumatising.