Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

How Can Social Marketing Help Reduce Youth Suicide?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Nancy R. Lee
September 8, 2023

Imagine a world in which citizens eagerly adopt behaviors that public sector managers advocate for to improve public health, prevent injuries, protect the environment and engage communities. This is a world that Social Marketing can help you create. This is my third column highlighting Social Marketing, a proven discipline to influence citizen behaviors for social good.

The “wicked problem” that Social Marketing can help address discussed in the July ASPA PA Times online newsletter was reducing school mass shootings, and in August, reducing wildfires. This month I am discussing the prevention of youth suicide. I’ll begin with a few facts from CDC’s Youth Online: High School YRBS – United States 1991 — 2019 Results | DASH | CDC: (Note: 2019 data is used here, given the unusual impact of the pandemic on youth survey results during 2020-2023):

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among high school-aged youths 14-18 years, with unintentional injuries the number one cause.
  • Almost 19 percent of high school youth have considered attempting suicide in the last year.
  • More than 15 percent have a plan for how they would attempt suicide.
  • And 9 percent actually attempted suicide.

A CDC website on suicide prevention notes several factors that can protect against suicide risk including personal factors (e.g., reasons for wanting to live); relationship factors (e.g., support from friends and family); community factors (e.g., availability of behavioral healthcare); and societal factors (e.g., reduced access to lethal means of suicide among people at risk).

This month’s column highlights a social marketing effort that confirms the protective factor that a friend can provide. 

A Social Marketing Approach

In 2016, the Washington State Department of Health developed and led a social marketing effort with a purpose to reduce youth suicides and a focus on preventing suicide attempts—one that could help deter the nearly 20 percent of high school youths who might be considering attempting suicide. The following case summary is from the 7th edition of Social Marketing: Behavior Change for Good.

Based on a review of findings from prior and similar efforts, the campaign’s priority audience consisted of close friends of youths considering suicide versus the suicidal youths themselves. To confirm this direction, team members conducted one-on-one interviews with high school youths, with findings clearly showing that the most powerful intervention would be that of a close friend of the youth considering suicide. After all, the close friend would be the most likely to know that “something was up”, and would be seen as “someone it would be comfortable to open up to.”

Desired behaviors for the friend to enact were also explored, testing first the potential for asking a friend who seems depressed, hopeless or unusually angry, “Are you thinking about suicide?” Youths clearly indicated that starting the conversation with a question like that would be “awkward.” They were also concerned that saying this might put the thought in their friend’s head and then they might do it. Instead, what would be more likely would be to first ask the friend who was exhibiting warning signs, “What’s going on?”

Initial campaign strategies focused on getting a conversation started, driving youths to a Tumblr page that provided help and advice about how to have the conversation, as well as access to a suicide hotline.  Friends were encouraged to have these conversations in private. Promotional strategies featured real stories from those who had helped save the life of a suicidal friend by having a conversation. Over time, communication channels have included: an online landing page using Tumblr that outlines warning signs for suicide; conversation starters and hotline information; postings on Facebook and Instagram; posters in school hallways and restrooms; and special events such as a high school cafeteria event where posters and clings “dominate the space.”

As of 2023, the Washington State Department of Health continues to take action to reduce youth suicide. And, as reported in 2022, campaign metrics from the 2016 campaign indicated the Facebook and Instagram components of the campaign resulted in an extremely high click through rate of 5.5 percent, with more than 36,000 impressions and more than 2,000 clicks to the Tumblr site. Ads saw a high level of engagement with commenters tagging friends. The mobile display campaign delivered 3.2 million impressions with more than 5,300 clicks to the campaign website, where a video featuring a friend who had reached out to a friend in need achieved an 85 percent completion rate.

In future columns in October, November and December, I will share Social Marketing strategies to address other current major “wicked problems” in the United States including homelessness, fentanyl overdoses and carbon emissions.

Author: Nancy R. Lee is an affiliate instructor at the University of Washington where she teaches courses in social marketing; a professional certificate course instructor for the International Social Marketing Association; president of Social Marketing Services, Inc.; a strategic advisor for C+C; and a coauthor of 13 books on social marketing with Philip Kotler. Email: [email protected]

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *