Suicide Prevention Training Programs - Tips and Strategies

Life is precious and funds are limited so choosing evidence based, proven, time and cost effective suicide  prevention programs that achieve positive outcomes is essential. 

Marion Wands, CEO and Director of ConNetica has written this article to share her 30 plus years as an adult educator and passionate suicide prevention social entrepreneur to facilitate the selection and delivery of cost effective, impactful suicide prevention programs.  

Effective suicide prevention training programs must result in the learner gaining the knowledge, skills and confidence to be ready, willing and able to support others who are becoming vulnerable. Programs must be tailorable to suit the local context and needs of each audience, succinct and grounded in a raft of theories to ensure that the learning is transferred to everyday practice. Preferably, programs are delivered by local community members or facilitators who can easily identify with the group to whom training is being delivered. 

The following strategies are all incorporated into ConNetica's suite of Australian evidence based suicide prevention training programs. Training evaluations prove that all programs are achieving positive outcomes, often in less than half the time of other programs. 

Tips & Strategies 

1.    Always put the learner at the centre of the learning experience when planning the presentation

·       What is their context? How will you incorporate this into the program?

·       What experiences will they be able to relate to and use this to inform stories, images, content, graphics and video clips

·       Involve the targeted audience in the design and testing of all information prior to release

·       Face to face session – confirm their expectations and where possible accommodate their attainment in the program. If you are not able to address their needs, be sure to let participants know and use the “to be continued” sheet to record what needs to be followed up and or provide sources that can be accessed to ensure needs are met in the future

2.    Research and Evidence

·       Ensure content is grounded in contemporary evidence and interweaves a series of theories to enhance learning about suicide prevention and mental health. These theories include population health, health promotion, suicide prevention, change management, adult education , change management and social marketing and communications

·       Share the essence of the evidence and associated theories with participants so that they deem the learning to be credible and therefore worth their time to attend and apply post training 

3.    Evaluation

·       Build the evaluation into the design of the program, include pre and post evaluations so that you can demonstrate the value and impact of your programs

·       Where possible, have independent evaluations completed to objectively demonstrate the value of your programs in relation to the impact of the program on participant’s willingness to apply their knowledge and skills and other supports they may need in the future, plus feedback on the quality of the facilitator/s, venue, training program

·       Post evaluation – if feasible, develop a follow up evaluation to identify the impact of the training program 

4.    Use a variety of mediums

·       Use stories, videos, photos to generate interactions and discussion and to reinforce key learning and make the learning process engaging, interesting and attractive to different learning styles

5.    Always acknowledge country and traditional custodians of the land

·       Once you introduce yourself, the very next thing to do is to acknowledge the country upon which you are meeting and the traditional custodians of the land – past, present and emerging. Consider your own words that really demonstrate your personal connection to and valuing of Australia’s First Nation people the land upon which you are meeting – your ability to be authentic will ensure you are better able to engage with the hearts and minds of your group

·       Taking the time to do this, is a strong message of respect for Australia’s First People and leads into an excellent statement that for each of us the topics of mental health and suicide prevention is personal and contextual and that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders we must acknowledge their unique context when it comes to mental health and suicide prevention interventions 

6.    Share something about yourself

·       Mental health and suicide prevention programs often evoke personal emotions. Share something of yourself that demonstrates your interest in the topic and or related experiences. Remember that while the session is not about you, you need to demonstrate a strong connection as to why this program is important to you and that you are going to ensure that this learning experience is of benefit and memorable to everyone in the room. Your reason for delivering these programs is enhance humanity by providing people with the confidence, knowledge and skills to support others who are becoming vulnerable or at imminent risk of suicide.

7.    Tailor the learning experiences and content to each audience’s context and expectations

·       Research reinforces that the experience of suicide is personal and contextual. Training programs must therefore be tailorable to the unique context and needs of the organisation and or community where the program is being delivered. Even if you are delivering online training programs, it is essential that learners can navigate your offering, so that they access what is important to them. Please remember all programs are about the learner, not the facilitator and what they think is important. 

8.    Confirm each group’s learning expectations and create safe learning spaces

·       Include a "getting to know you" activity at the start of the program 

·       Demonstrate from the very beginning of the program that you will aim to tailor the program to their needs – ask and record the group’s learning expectations

·       Share with participants that this is an emotional topic and that many people have personal experiences relating to suicide which can make the session gruelling for some. Hence individuals can take “time out” at any time, just ask them to let you or another member of the group know if they are leaving the group so that appropriate support can be offered. Reinforce the need for all members to practice self care so that they look after their own well being. In addition, share that our group’s ability to show compassion and support to one another is the exact behaviours we wish to expand in our communities. 

·       Ensure that the program’s purpose and ground rules are established at the start of each session. Essentialground rules relate to the need for all members to be:

         Respectful and open to new ideas

         Share - only what they feel comfortable

         Contributions - the facilitator will provide opportunities for all to participate

         Confidentiality - all participants know they can share stories post training about learning content but NOT the names/identities of the people who have shared the information 

         Time – confirm time frames for the session and that as the facilitator you will need to ensure that program content is covered, if you need to “move the group on” you will respectfully check with the group if they are in agreement and understand the need to “move on”

         Use the “To be continued --- “ to record information that will be addressed after the program

9.    Chunk the information – people are busy, give them the choice to choose those elements that are of most value to them

·       Chunk the information into “bite size” pieces

·       Be sure to cover the basics first, so that the program consists of a series of building blocks

·       When outlining the agenda ensure you define key “chunks”

·       Online material - include a navigation bar to facilitate easy access to relevant information

10.  Online and webinar presentations – specific tips

·       Outline the relevance and proposed application of the learning

·       Make the presentation succinct – if what you are sharing can simply be done by a Fact Sheet – simply do that, as people’s time is precious, and they can often read faster than listening to you. Hence, they will tune out very quickly and start multitasking and therefore miss the key messages you are trying to convey

·       Ideally break the content into 8 - 12-minute chunks 

·       Let participants pick and choose the information they wish to cover – include key elements on a navigation tracker

·       Include a “time tracker” so people know how much longer to go

·       Minimise words on slides and avoid online PowerPoint presentations – where the presenter simply reads what is on each slide – use engaging/ thought provoking photos to reinforce key messages

·       Use interactive storytelling and games to provide opportunities to apply learning in the privacy of their own space and to learn from mistakes and or the feedback that clearly articulates the impact of their choices

·       Include immediate feedback on the outcome of each option chosen

·       Include question and answers segment to generate engagement with audience (webinar), if none are forthcoming have some prepared that demonstrate application and relevance of the learning. 

·       Summarise key points per segment to reinforce key learning

·       Include online evaluation to track learning and retention of information, redirect learning to the correct information in the content when incorrect answers are recorded

·       Include the immediate opportunity to print certificate once the program is complete

11.  Prepare practical activities that actively engage the users and provide an opportunity to apply learning

·       Move from the session simply being about information dissemination, remember people can simply read a book to attain this information. What we need to do is provide opportunities to practice the skills that will see them able to effectively support others who are vulnerable and provide appropriate interventions. 

·       Craft small group activities and questions that provide opportunities for learners to reflect upon and build on their own experiences and thus reinforce or establish desired behaviours and or to extend opportunities to explore the topic

·       Use “what if “scenarios to generate application of learning or thoughts

·       Provide opportunities to apply learning to own work context or personal life

12.  Provide opportunities for small group work

·       Maximise opportunities for learners to work in small groups to share ideas and problem solve – this consolidates safe learning environments and maximises opportunities for active engagement

13.  Ask open ended questions 

·       Be sure to pose questions and pause before providing the answer, better still ask the group to share their responses. Remember people come to your training with loads of experience and they feel respected and valued when you, as the facilitator provide opportunities for them to share their ideas. Nothing turns people off more than being “spoken at” especially if this becomes the general modus operandi for the whole program

14.  Sense of hope and humour

·       Understandably mental health and suicide prevention are not the lightest topics to discuss. However, while acknowledging the gravity of the related experiences, facilitators need to portray a sense of hope and confidence that each person in the group can effectively support others when they develop the confidence, knowledge and skills to have ConNetica’s “for life” conversations with others

·       When appropriate, humour is a great way to lighten the atmosphere and “happiness” and being relaxed is are great precursors for learning

15.  Identify additional learning opportunities/resources/ongoing connections

·       Include identification of extra resources that can be accessed to reinforce/extend learning – refer them to relevant social media pages as a way to stay up to date with the latest information and or connection with other participants

·       Ask participants if they agree to have their contact details shared with other learners to help facilitate a community of practice. 

What Makes ConNetica’s Suicide Prevention Programs Unique

ConNetica’s suicide prevention programs incorporate the above elements and a Communications and Behaviour Change Framework. Simply put, our programs incorporate the variables that predict and explain behaviours. This approach aligns with the US National Institute for Mental Health approach to suicide prevention, that has been in operation since 1991. The variables that underpin effective suicide prevention programs are: intention, environmental constraints, ability, anticipated outcomes (or attitudes), norms, self-standards, emotion and self-efficacy (Fishbein et al. 1991)

The following articulates the Nine Guiding Principles that underpin the content and approach t of ConNetica’s Suicide Prevention Programs.

1.     Participants must form an intention to perform the recommended behaviours or make a (public) commitment to do so.

2.     Participants must have no physical or structural environmental constraints that may prevent the behaviour being performed.

3.     Participants must have the skills and equipment necessary to perform the behaviour.

4.     Participants must perceive themselves to be capable of performing the behaviour.

5.     Participants must consider that the benefits and rewards of performing the behaviour outweigh the costs and non-benefits associated with performing the behaviour, including the rewards associated with not performing the behaviour. 

6.     Participants must perceive the behaviour to be consistent with their self-image and internalised behaviours (i.e. morally acceptable to them).

7.     Participants must perceive the behaviours to be consistent with their social roles.

8.     Participants’ emotional reaction (or expectation) to performing the behaviours must be more positive than negative. 

9.     Social normative pressures to perform the behaviours must be perceived to be greater than social normative pressure not to perform the behaviours. 



1.    European Commission, Directorate General – Information Society; IST Programme, IST Best Practices in e-Learning 2001, 

2.    10 Things that Take a Webinar from Good to Great

3.    17 Tips to motivate adult learners

4.    Pappas, Christopher 2014. 11 Tips to Engage and Inspire Adult Learners

5.    Adult learning principles

6.    Fishbein M, MIddlestadt, S & Hitchcock, PJ 1991. Using information to change sexually transmitted disease-related behaviours: an analysis based on the theory of reasoned action. In Wasaerheit J, Aral S & Holmes K (Eds.), Research issues in human behavior and sexually transmitted diseases in the AIDS era. NIMH, Washington DC.


Author: Marion Wands, CEO & Director ConNetica


Expert Input

Adjunct Professor John Mendoza, Ingrid Ozols, Dr Barry Elsey, Professor Rob Donovan