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).