18.1 National campaign to prevent suicide


What does this measure refer to and what is its objective?

Mass media campaigns conducted at a national level to prevent suicide aim to help people with suicide intent by providing information about possibilities of psychological support or counselling, and perhaps more controversially, by reducing the attractiveness of the railway as a place for suicide. This measure also raises awareness of suicide problems among the general public and might enable early interventions by people around persons at risk.


Best practice and lessons learned

  • The best way is to get a campaign initiated by the department of health.
  • Each campaign needs to address a special target group and should be tested on a panel before launching. It is necessary to have this right so the message is clearly addressed.
  • Several different mass media / various communication channels can be used, either separately or jointly: communication in the press (TV, radio, paper), websites, social networks, or public events. Commercials or short films can be broadcast on television during prime time, but also included in movie theatres. One may also think of including posters and flyers distributed in stations, at locations where trespasses often occur and in police offices. A web-based campaign can be mixed with press releases.
  • Training for the personnel involved in carrying out the campaigns may be needed.

Warning points

Expected difficulties and issues you should pay attention to

  • Do not conduct targeted campaigns on suicide as an infrastructure manager or railway undertaking and do not make it specific for rail suicide. This attracts suicidal persons to the track.
  • The effect is likely to decline with time after the campaign, thus the measure needs repeating.
  • Effect is likely to remain stable as long as the public remembers the campaigns. So one recommendation would be to help the public remember the campaign though follow-up actions (e.g. flyers, posters, leaflets, short radio jingle, etc.)
  • Cultural reactions to the exposure to realistic accidents can be quite different between countries. Therefore, the potential shocking contents of a campaign should be designed according to the acceptance level in the targeted country.
  • Campaigns may undergo criticism due to relatives of victims or staff being painfully reminded of the accidents they had experienced. Such criticism may then itself be relayed in mass media, which may decrease the efficiency of the message.


Other points that you should not forget

  • Try to cooperate with national helplines and psychiatric institutions.
  • Mass-media campaigns appear to work best in combination with other measures. They can be associated to other communication means such as information campaigns in stations or schools. It has been suggested to use communication campaigns as well to improve the acceptance of other measures such as fencing.

Study results

Data or other evidence supporting the measure's effectiveness

  • In the domain of road safety, Hoekstra & Wegman (2011) have emphasized that the potential effectiveness of campaign depends on (1) the baseline of the behaviour to be influenced, (2) whether or not suitable alternatives are provided to the audience to deal with the dangers that a behaviour present, (3) the combination with other measures such as enforcement, education, personal communication, etc.
  • Krysinska & De Leo (2008) report on “indirect evidence” to support media campaigns to prevent suicide.
  • According to an internal analysis in Belgium, such a campaign lowers the barrier to proceed to suicide on the railway.
  • Several different mass media campaigns (i.e. commercials on TV and movie theatres) have been set in Sweden, but there has never been any evaluation done.
  • There are few studies or interventions considering the ability to influence the choice of method (perhaps by the controversial option of explaining the potential delay in death and possible mutilation, without death) – (Mishara, 2007).
  • Zeal Solutions (2007) - unpublished report (UK) - changing the perception of the railway as a place for suicide is not 100% effective! The same review report referred to efforts in Seoul - suicide prevention music, appeals to passengers through audible messages and signs to think about loved ones and the importance of life (though nothing has been published on the effectiveness of these).
  • Mass media campaigns to prevent suicide have been conducted in UK by the Samaritans.

last update: 2014-09-15