I'm at the National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media, connecting with people who work across the full range of health issues, people who are communicators of all kinds - from "old" media and new media, traditional and social media marketing, and health communication and promotion.

When I meet new people and tell them that I work in suicide prevention, the next part of the conversation goes something like this: "Uh huh...," followed by averted eyes, and then, after eye contact is reestablished, a question. The question is the only thing that reliably changes. Almost no matter where I am and what else is going on, the initial verbal and physical response is the same.

Because I've come to expect the awkwardness that comes with saying the word "suicide" out loud, the questions are where things get interesting. Often, people ask why or how I got into suicide prevention, and I tell them a part of my personal and professional story. (See here and here).

People also ask what it's like to work at a suicide prevention hotline, which is when I get to explain that I've never done that and don't do it now, but I can imagine that it must be very difficult. (I'm absolutely kinder than that, because I know that most people, when they think suicide prevention, think crisis intervention. I'm a person with close family members who don't even understand what I do. I'm forgiving.)

Lately, though, people have been asking questions about something very specific. Suicide prevention has seemingly entered the national conversation via the attention that's been directed at suicide among veterans and returning military.

I find these questions so interesting because I think about the answers often, often enough to explore the topic several times on this blog. I've written four posts on this topic in the last 14 months, more posts than on any other single topic. You can read them, if you want, here and here and here and here.

Yet, when I go back to see how many people have read these particular posts, relative to other posts (let's say, like the one I wrote about Avatar), few have clicked through to read about suicide and suicide prevention among veterans and returning military.

The thing is, these posts have garnered amazing comments, often from veterans and returning military themselves. There isn't anywhere else I'd have the ability to access the voices I've gotten to hear through this forum. These qualitative impacts, to me, are in some ways more important than the click-throughs, because they represent the conversation that's happening, at least here on PsychologyToday.com, about this issue.

But, as I'm learning as I talk with people at this conference and elsewhere, this conversation may just be happening face-to-face just as if not more often than it's happening online. Online, our comments are archived forever, whereas face-to-face, our reflections are not permanently connected to us for all time. We're able to ask questions and think through some big issues that are connected to suicide and suicide prevention among veterans and returning military without putting these ideas down on paper, or even virtual paper.

So, at a conference where most of us are talking - a lot - about the power of social media, such as blogs, to contribute to the conversation about our health issues of concern, I'm thinking that it's critical to remember to keep the conversation going face-to-face, too.

It's also important, for those of us who are into new and social media, to remember that counting hits should be balanced with tracking some of the more intricate, less measurable effects of health stuff that's done online. I learn a lot about people by noticing what of my posts get more clicks than others, but I really gain by reading comments that reflect individuals' experiences and thoughts.

If you'd like to follow the National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media on Twitter, the hashtag is #hcmm10.

Copyright 2010 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

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