Suicide prevention campaigns commonly employ brief informational materials aimed at emerging adults. Are such programs helpful, and do design characteristics yield differences in user outcomes? Literature is reviewed from the interpersonal theory of suicide, escape theory, and terror management theory, to inform our experimental design.
Participants (n = 977 MTurk emerging adults) reported demographics and suicide histories and were randomized to one of nine experimental cells with varying video and journaling conditions to approximate suicide prevention materials. Participants were surveyed on perceptions of the materials’ risk reduction effectiveness, indicated their suicidality risk factors (e.g., hopelessness, depressiveness, purposelessness, and non-belongingness), and conducted an implicit association test of suicidality.
Suicide risk factors did not differ between experimental and control conditions, but certain conditions were rated as more effective (i.e., essay conditions prompting reflection, and the video condition featuring a personal/affective narrative). While there was no actual comparative reduction of risk, there was a perception that certain designs were more helpful.
Real-world suicide prevention campaigns often feel justified despite lacking impact. Effective suicide risk reduction requires greater time investment and deeper personal connection than brief campaigns can offer, as well as systemic changes from a public health policy perspective.