Positive Narrative

Tips for Conveying a Positive Narrative

  • Go beyond vague or cursory mentions of positive themes.

    For example, avoid using a slogan like “suicide is preventable” without specific actions or examples, or representing the positive message with only a single word or symbol. Even a brief description of an action step, story of coping, or resource can be vivid, and can enhance your credibility. Messaging can help the public to picture what prevention looks like, and give them concrete steps they can take to make a difference.

  • Convey a positive narrative that is relevant to your goals and audience.

    For example, a newsletter that reaches funders and other organizational supporters might describe successes in disseminating evidence-based programs, a social media site to promote resiliency among teens might include peer stories of coping with adversity, and a web page to help parents identify and act on emotional issues of concern might include information about warning signs, when and how to seek help for their child, and the benefits of intervening early, before symptoms progress.

  • Avoid undermining the Positive Narrative with unsafe and unhelpful content, such as dark or alarming language or images, depictions of suicide methods, extensive statistics on the problem, or messages that create a negative narrative about a particular group.

    For example, messages referencing an “epidemic” of LGBT youth suicide and focusing on statistics about LGBT attempt rates are already ubiquitous and collectively create the impression that suicidal behavior is common and expected in this population. Instead of adding to that narrative, messages can convey practical ways that individuals and institutions can support LGBT young people, personal stories of coping, and information about available resources  and protective factors like family acceptance and support.

  • Use data to convey a Positive Narrative that is relevant to message content.

    For example, in a media interview about suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge, one interviewee cited the fact that a larger number of people have been talked out of ending their lives by police and security officers than have jumped from the bridge (86 successful interventions in 2012, compared to 33 confirmed and 3 unconfirmed suicides – or: more than twice as many people are saved than those who die.)

  • Illustrate the problem of suicide in terms of effective solutions.

    For example, “Research shows that suicide hotlines save lives and can contribute to reducing the estimated $34.6 billion in annual medical and work loss costs of suicide in the U.S.”

  • Avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes or stigma.

    For example, rather than talking about how mental health stigma is a problem, which may discourage help-seeking, messaging can focus on solutions to stigma, such as sharing real stories of help and coping, countering barriers to help-seeking, and promoting audience-identified benefits of taking action. In fact, anti-stigma messages never need to mention the word “stigma” at all.

  • If your organization offers services or resources, consider creating guidance for partners and stakeholders on appropriate ways of promoting them.

    For example, the Veterans Crisis Line produced this guidance for those crafting custom content to help spread the word about this resource.