Why we have to talk about suicide (especially as health care marketers)

Why we have to talk about suicide (especially as health care marketers)

Do you remember how you felt when you heard about the suicides of designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain? Well, just one short day after the news broke about Anthony Bourdain, I personally felt that same shock and sadness tenfold. I received a voice message from an old friend. She was part of a tight group of friends I’ve hung out with for years.

“Di, it’s me, Lisa. Give me a call, please.”

I could tell by the sound of her voice that something was off. As I picked up my phone to call her back I was hoping I was wrong.

As you can guess, something was wrong. Terribly wrong. Lisa told me our mutual friend’s 17-year-old son had just taken his life. This young man had graduated from high school only a few days ago. He had a wonderful, loving and supportive family, an amazing sense of humor, a full-ride sports scholarship to college and many, many young friends who adored him.

My first thought, as I was reeling from the news and my heart was breaking for my friends was, “Why?”

Why did this have to happen? Why don’t we as a society talk more? Why is it not ok to tell others that you or a loved one has thoughts about suicide? Why is it socially unacceptable to express these thoughts? Why does there have to be such a stigma?

We need to talk

We need to make depression, anxiety, mental health and suicidal thoughts as easy to talk about as any other health condition. We need to end the stigma around these subjects—to make it as easy to share our mental health struggles and treatment with others as people who are being treated for conditions like diabetes or cardiovascular disease do.

Why we as health care marketers need to take action

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between 10 and 34 in the United States and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.

Here’s another shocking statistic. Did you know that 80 percent of individuals thinking about suicide made contact with a health care provider? And, many times that contact was with their primary care physician.

  • Why isn’t suicide prevention a core priority in health care?
  • How can we make system changes to make prevention a priority?
  • How can we better equip primary care providers?
  • How can we make screening, assessment and intervention as acceptable and standard in everyone’s care as a colonoscopy or a mammogram?
  • How can we market those screenings in a way that erases stigma?

I don’t have the answers, but I do know we need to start using our creative and marketing skills to work on finding a resolution to these big questions.

How to start the conversation (an example)

Several years ago, we worked on a campaign we called “Give Voice” to raise funds to build Amberwing Center for Youth & Family Well-Being. The last million dollars was needed to build a facility that would create a national model for the effective care of children, teens, young adults and families coping with mental health and substance use problems.

It was one of the most meaningful projects we’ve ever done. We invited people from the community to “Give Voice” to mental illness and start erasing the stigma surrounding getting help. The campaign was extensive including a press conference with the mayor, TV, outdoor, digital and more. Part of the campaign included creating a powerful video with a young man named Dave Romano.

Dave was just like my friend’s son; he had lots of family support, he was popular and athletic—and depressed. The only difference was Dave recognized he needed help and received it at the right time. I’m happy to tell you that throughout his college career Dave was a spokesperson for talking openly about suicide and depression and today he is a counselor at the beautiful Amberwing Center for Youth & Family Well-Being.

We can’t be afraid

I don’t ever again want to get a call like the one I got from Lisa. We can’t be afraid to have the hard conversations, to bring up the subject of suicide, to communicate with those suffering from suicidal thoughts. To let people know they are not alone and they don’t have to be afraid. To create marketing around the support we can provide people in the hardest of times. To create campaigns that make it perfectly acceptable to talk openly about mental health, treatment and recovery.

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

How Can We Fix Our Broken Health Care System? A Nod From The Small Screen

How Can We Fix Our Broken Health Care System? A Nod From The Small Screen

If you’ve been following our social media outreach or have checked out some of our prior blog posts, you’re probably already semi-familiar with the upcoming Believe in Better Project event.

If you’re new here, welcome! And, let me give you a quick plug about this inaugural event and why it’s a really big deal.

The Believe in Better Project is a first-of-its-kind event drawing health care innovators and visionaries from across the country on October 16 and 17, to Duluth, Minnesota, our HQ.

In the face of a health care system that is “broken” in too many ways, the gathering is designed to foster new thoughts, perspectives and dialogue—the building blocks for change.

We’ll be bringing together people who are making a difference with people who want to make a difference. Our incredible lineup of speakers comes from all different health care backgrounds and from all around the nation. They are all committed to the event’s mission:

To jump-start ideas and actions and start fixing health care in big and small ways, right now.

The spotlight on this broken health care system seems to be a recurrent conversation, no matter where you go or how familiar with health care delivery you are.

  • We’re surrounded by headlines that scold big pharma for soaring drug prices.
  • We’re victims of enormous medical bills from our “trusted” providers and “patient-centered” hospitals.
  • We’re all too familiar with the concept that physicians are bogged down by bureaucracy and can only spend a few minutes of their precious time with each patient, only to move on to the next one. And the next one. All of which is guided by a roster of administrators talking about delivering care, versus the physicians who actually are delivering care.

In fact, a recent study confirmed that “for every physician on the front lines, we are seeing 14 non-physician clinicians, nurses, physical therapists, etc. What was shocking was there was one manager for every physician and 10 non-clinical people. From 2005 to 2015, this bureaucracy has grown substantially.”

It’s grown so much that it is capturing Hollywood’s attention.

New Amsterdam, NBC’s hit new show, features (handsome, intelligent and charming, of course) Dr. Max Goodwin, whose steadfast mission to shake up the bureaucracy and provide exceptional care, is deeply challenged by the oldest public hospital in America (set in New York City).

When I checked out the trailer for the first time, I had some significant reactions:

  • I’m intrigued. But, I hope this isn’t another Grey’s Anatomy “let’s have every possible natural disaster occur or experience maximum infidelity stretched across infinite seasons.”
  • As a native New Yorker and health care strategist, I can completely relate.
  • Every physician and administrator needs to watch this. Right now.
  • It’s about time this growing epidemic comes front and center.

The premise of the show categorizes one physician who must convince his resolute colleagues to “disrupt the status quo and prove he will stop at nothing to breathe new life into this understaffed, underfunded and underappreciated hospital.” In the trailer, Dr. Goodwin pronounces one of the series’ most captivating lines:

“We all feel like the system is too big to change, but guess what? We are the system, and we need to change.”

With each new character we are introduced to, including patients, physicians and administrators alike, and within each new episode we get a new behind-the-curtain reveal as to how broken our health care system really is—and the program is just getting started.

As viewers tune in each week, they are getting more exposed to the black hole of the health care system in the U.S., beyond just billing, time spent with patients or an administrative “bloat.”

Our health care system is complex. It’s tough to navigate, and if you’re not familiar with the jargon, processes or intricacies, you are innately set up for failure. It’s messy and everyone knows it. But it’s not permanent, and something can be done to help alleviate even a fragment of this tension.

That’s why Hailey Sault is doing something about it. By being a part of the Believe in Better Project, you’ll be part of an unfolding conversation into how we can make a difference for health care, right now, as leaders and front line workers. Because our perspectives and voices matter.


Be sure to check back, following the event, for some captivating videos and excerpts from these awesome conversations!

9 Questions that drive next level health care marketing plans

Women are changing health care (and are overdue for the corner office)

Women are changing health care (and are overdue for the corner office)

I recently read that women are writing a new playbook of power in order to create the world they want to live in. Yes, we have been finding a louder voice lately and it’s a wonderful chorus. The problem is that in order to write a “new playbook of power” more of us need to break into traditional roles of power—like CEOs of hospitals and health systems.

The latest statistics tell us that although women make up 80 percent of the health care workforce—and now represent half of all medical students—only 8 percent of us are CEOs of top 100 hospitals. And only one of us is the CEO of a Fortune 500 health care company.

What’s holding us back?

1. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a major obstacle in women gaining top leadership roles is that leaders, in this case male leaders, often choose successors that are most similar to them. Since women don’t “look” or “act” like men, we don’t match the image most decision makers either consciously or subconsciously see as top leaders, thus lessening our chances of being promoted to top leadership roles.

2. When women are promoted to executive positions they are typically promoted to staff or support positions such as human resources, communications or legal and not the top strategic leadership roles that lead to the CEO position. In addition, when women try to assert themselves in these leadership roles they often experience backlash against their authority and competence.

3. As women we often do not advocate for ourselves. We temper our aspirations believing leadership is not possible for us. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was recently quoted in a piece for thecut.com as saying,

“The acquisition of power requires that one aspire to power, that one believe it is possible. As women then achieve power and exercise it well, the barriers fall. That’s why I’m optimistic. As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be even more women out there doing things.”

Finding your joy in health care marketing.

Finding your joy in health care marketing.

No dark fate determines the future – we do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and recreate our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet.

Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu
The Book of Joy


Today, I write from my heart. No KPIs. No dashboard discussions. No marketing plan recommendations. Not even a long post.

Today, I want to talk about you. Why you decided health care marketing was your calling. How it was when you first got into this business. What gets you out of bed and into the office every day. Because with all the crazy things going on with health care today, it might be good to stop and remember the core reason we do this.

I’ve reflected on this a lot recently as I’ve been reading The Book of Joy, Lasting happiness in a changing world. The book tells of a week when the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu came together to reflect on joy. It’s a truly amazing book. In one part, the Dalai Lama says that joy comes from gratitude, from the recognition of all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment we are in now. Showing others our gratitude, even those that don’t always treat us kindly, brings joy to our hearts.  

So why did you get into this?

I would love to hear your answer. I’m going to guess it has something to do with helping people get healthier. Helping them get through some of the hardest times they will experience in their life. Reassuring them that you are there if and when they should need you.

It seems like every day something happens that sucks the energy out of us. A complaint from a physician or a patient. A change of direction from leadership that you weren’t expecting. Or a million other things that just aren’t fun.

How do we turn these stressful times into feelings of gratitude? What can we do to get in touch with the patient again?