Brands Need to Take Action Around Important Social Issues Like Suicide Prevention

September is Suicide Prevention Month, which is the perfect opportunity for brands to take on non-politicized social issues.

By  | for AdWeek | Illustration by Getty Images


Earlier this year, I was in a horrific motorcycle accident and lost an arm to paralysis. When something like that happens, your mind almost inevitably can default to a dark place—frequently. Though I’ve otherwise recovered nicely, some days are just overwhelming. Thankfully, I have the support of family, friends and work to help keep me positive, but every day is still a struggle. Suicide has become a topic that is personal to me, as it may be for you or someone you love. Because the sad fact is that you don’t need to be in a horrific accident for dark thoughts to cross your mind. Countless people are struggling every day, often without the network of support that everyone needs, since many carry around trauma or illnesses that can’t be seen.


It’s well-publicized that suicide is a massive problem in America. Every day, over 120 Americans die by suicide, and it is the fourth leading cause of death for adults ages 18-65. With these tragic statistics, it’s not surprising to find that suicide affects almost all of us, in one way or another.


YouGov research found that about one in three Americans know someone who has died of suicide, and one in four have experienced suicidal thoughts. Shockingly, nearly one in 10 say they’ve attempted suicide. September is National Suicide Prevention Month, so now is the time to provide support for those in need and make a difference.


They have the resources—and some would say responsibility—to exert a positive impact on such critical social issues.


It seems frivolous to even discuss marketing when it comes to the topic of suicide prevention. And it is, but I’m going to do it anyway because I believe that marketers and brands can positively impact just about anything. While no one wants to see brands exploit suicide, depression and mental illness for profit and promotional opportunities, brands are a big part of culture. They have the resources—and some would say responsibility—to exert a positive impact on such critical social issues.


In fact, recent research by Sprout Social found that 66% of consumers consider it important for brands to take public stands on social issues. MetLife recently conducted a survey that found that 85% of employees say that good corporate citizenship is important when it comes to where they work. Making a difference in the local community (76%) and in the world (72%) are almost equally desired by employees. Clearly, stakeholders both within and outside corporate walls feel there is an imperative for brands to take action around the issues that impact society. For example, Nike famously (and profitably) angered many by supporting Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter, which strengthened their relations with their dedicated customer base (and even received an Emmy nomination). Airbnb and others have been vocal on the divisive U.S. border issue, a move as risky as Nike’s.


Addressing these sorts of topics can be done in a thoughtful, meaningful, altruistic and impactful way. So if brands throw their support behind suicide prevention, what’s the right way to do it? Here are a few thoughts and best practices:


Be relevant

If a brand wants to have the strongest impact, they should start by looking within. Find a genuine connection between the brand and an area of suicide risk. For instance, if a brand caters primarily to seniors, they could consider an activation to address the stunningly high senior suicide rates. Sprout Social’s research found that the top three factors that impact a brand’s credibility when speaking out on a social issue are how it impacts the brand’s customers, employees and business operations. Brands with young targets can also support suicide prevention as suicides among teens and young adults are also on the rise.


Begin at home

As we saw mentioned, suicide haunts most adults in America. That means it’s likely there are people within every organization who could use support. Brands can offer that support by providing mental health resources and generally creating an environment that fosters community, inclusivity and well-being. This creates a virtuous cycle that benefits the employees, the community, the business, recruitment and the brand’s reputation.


Incite genuine, well-intended action

Big brands have big platforms. They should use this power to champion initiatives that would otherwise struggle to get the word out. That can mean launching special edition products that build awareness and funding worthy organizations that can also be partnered with or amplifying the power of their community by helping people get involved. Of course, chipping in on top of any activation goes a long way, too.


The biggest challenge isn’t how a brand can contribute to or promote suicide prevention. Intention and sensitivity should mitigate those concerns. Whether to do it at all is the real challenge. When a brand finds the courage, consumers have proven that they will reward it. If Playboy can champion feminism, anything can happen.


If you believe someone you know is at risk, you should reach out, offer your support and direct them to resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you have the means to provide financial support, you can donate to one of the many great initiatives and organizations around the country helping people at risk. If you have the time and skills to help, you can volunteer to make a difference.