In 2007, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs established the National Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline to provide confidential 24-hour support to the nation’s 22 million Veterans, and it succeeded in helping tens of thousands of them each year. By 2010, the hotline was receiving more than 11,000 calls per month, and in November 2011, VA introduced an online chat option as another way for Veterans and their loved ones to connect with support. But VA leaders knew there were many more Veterans, Service members, and their families that were not aware of — or were not comfortable with using — this life-saving resource.
Working together with Reingold, VA program leaders reintroduced the hotline as the co-branded Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line to encourage more Veterans and Service members to reach out before their thoughts turn to suicide. In October 2010, Reingold brought in eight experts on suicide prevention, mental health, and Veterans’ issues for two full days of intense discussions. Forging ahead with knowledge gained during that retreat — and continuing to learn from those experts — VA suicide prevention coordinators, and Veterans of all backgrounds, we expanded outside of traditional methods to reach Veterans where they are.
We used a multitude of channels to change the tone of the national conversation about Veteran suicide, stressing Veteran resilience in the stories of Veterans who seek treatment and get better. We spread VA’s message through partners and trusted intermediaries who connect with Veterans every day.
Our collaboration is making a difference. In 2013, responders answered the 1 millionth call to the Veterans Crisis Line. Total calls to the hotline per year increased by more than 128% from 2011 to 2014, while the number of online chats jumped 250 percent. The number of text messages received has increased by 254 percent since VA launched this service in late 2011.
Millions of Veterans, Service members, and their family members and friends have connected with support.
Working closely with VA from the start, we built our strategy and campaign on a strong foundation of proven research on safe and effective mental health messaging, carefully tailored for the people we most needed to reach.
In October 2010, Reingold brought in eight experts on suicide prevention, mental health, and Veterans’ issues for two full days of intense discussions. That retreat — and subsequent discussions with VA officials, VA suicide prevention coordinators, and Veterans of all backgrounds — forged a consensus for defining the challenges, crafting the messages, and determining how to measure the campaign’s impact.
We haven’t confined our efforts to public service announcements, advertising, media relations, website design, and social media — although we have done plenty of that. We’ve also built relationships with hundreds of partners. We work hand-in-glove with VA and its suicide prevention coordinators, and create new tools for them to use. And we help educate journalists so they can write about suicide more responsibly.
Our approach was to empower Veterans and Service members, urging them to contact the Veterans Crisis Line for support when they experience a crisis. We created the “It’s Your Call” theme to encourage not only Veterans but also their families, friends, health care providers, and support organizations to connect with the Veterans Crisis Line. This messaging also encouraged these audiences to reach out to a mental health center, or buddy, or other forms of support in their community. The images we used were of strong, confident, real-life Veterans, representing a wide range of service eras, races, and age demographics to ensure that Veterans could relate to the people they saw in the materials.
All of our efforts produce great results individually. Together as an integrated whole, measurable results show that they make a difference in the lives of millions of Veterans and Service members.
Still, no one working on this issue is complacent. Even one life lost to suicide is too many. So Reingold has worked every year to build on our campaign’s momentum and success. To make that happen, we:
How have we done it? Through collaboration across the firm — and with our client and partners — for an all-encompassing and ever-evolving communications and outreach plan.
We designed the Veterans Crisis Line website (full and mobile) to make it easier for visitors to find support fast — by phone, chat, or text. But our effort extended beyond design and navigation. The site uses a .net URL (instead of .gov) to reinforce confidence in the service’s confidentiality. We researched the words and phrases Veterans use most when seeking mental health support to carefully craft the website’s language to achieve high search engine visibility — without using terms that discourage Veterans from seeking help. And the website’s links with more than 3,700 external sites have further boosted its search engine rankings, producing more than 670,000 visits to VeteransCrisisLine.net.
We forged partnerships with hundreds of government agencies, nonprofits, and other groups to spread the word, including scores of Veterans service organizations and community-based, faith-based, health care, and corporate groups. Working closely with these partners, we’ve designed hundreds of custom materials for their use: videos, social media posts, pamphlets, posters, billboards, displays, and more.
We support VA’s suicide prevention coordinators and Veterans Crisis Line staff by regularly updating toolkits and producing a library of videos they can use for outreach. We help with the annual training of suicide prevention coordinators, ask for their advice about the campaign and the tools they need, and secure their appearances at hundreds of national events.
By January 2015, all nine of our Veterans Crisis Line PSAs had consistently ranked in the top 5 percent of Nielsen-tracked PSAs and collectively earned more than 3.6 billion broadcast impressions. To achieve this reach with paid television and radio advertising would have cost more than $50 million.
4.7 million viewers were reached in one month on Facebook and YouTube with our “Power of 1” PSA
We maximize the impact of Suicide Prevention Month each year, working with VA to amplify its voice in the national conversation and increase awareness of the help it offers. VA’s efforts for Suicide Prevention Month in 2014 increased visits to veteranscrisisline.net from August to September by 28 percent, to more than 147,000.
We are shaping how members of the news media talk and write about the issue — not just by pitching ideas and suggesting messaging, but also by lining up journalists for in-person and online training on how to responsibly report about suicide.
We harness the power of social media. In 2014, for example, we launched a social media image-sharing campaign by creating and promoting the use of the Veterans Crisis Line graphic generator, which allows organizations and individuals to create inspirational images to share by selecting a quote and background design of their choice. In September 2014 alone, more than 1,400 images reached millions of people. We’ve also forged relationships with celebrities with large followings, such as Army Veteran and country music star Craig Morgan, whose post on the Veterans Crisis Line Facebook page during Suicide Prevention Month in 2014 was shared more than 2,300 times.
We spread the message every way and everywhere we can — not just with paid, earned, and social media and brochures, posters, and billboards, but also with scoreboard bulletins, displays that can withstand the harsh physical environments where troops are deployed, and the distribution of more than 7 million wallet cards listing the signs of suicide risk.
We also create carefully targeted giveaway items. For example, we seize the opportunity to connect with tens of thousands of hard-to-reach Vietnam-era Veterans and their supporters — historically the least likely of all Veterans to connect with VA — during Rolling Thunder’s annual Memorial Day weekend motorcycle ride and rally in Washington, D.C. Reingold staff volunteer for the event — just a small part of our personal involvement in outreach events across the country — so we can meet the Veterans and family members we work to support and hear what they have to say. Because for Reingold employees, our work for the Veterans Crisis Line is more than a job or communications campaign; it’s a mission.