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Sunday, September 18, 2011

DOD, Services Work to Prevent Suicides

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2011 – Officials know the facts about suicide in the military services, but the causes and best means of prevention are more elusive, a senior Defense Department official said today.
In testimony before the House Armed Services committee, Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and director of the TRICARE Management Activity, said DOD has invested “tremendous resources” to better understand how to identify those at risk of suicide, treat at-risk people, and prevent suicide.
“We continue to seek the best minds from both within our ranks, from academia, other federal health partners, and the private sector to further our understanding of this complex set of issues,” Woodson said.
The overall rate of suicide among service members has risen steadily for a decade, he said, and DOD and the services are taking a multidisciplinary approach in their efforts to save lives.
The Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments are developing shared clinical practice guidelines that health care providers in both agencies will use to assess suicide risk and help prevent suicide attempts, Woodson said.
DOD also is working with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to offer critical mental health services to National Guard and Reserve members, who often don’t live close to military medical facilities, he added.
Woodson acknowledged much work remains.
“We have identified risk factors for suicide, and factors that appear to protect an individual from suicide,” he said. “As you well understand, the interplay of these factors is very complex. Our efforts are focused on addressing solutions in a comprehensive and holistic manner.”

Defense suicide prevention research includes Army ‘STARS,’ a study to assess risk and resilience in service members, Woodson said.
“This is the largest single epidemiologic research effort ever undertaken by the Army, and is designed to examine mental health, psychological resilience, suicide risk, suicide-related behaviors and suicide deaths,” the assistant secretary said.
The study, he said, involves experts from the Uniform Services University of the Health Sciences, University of California, University of Michigan, Harvard University, and the National Institute of Mental Health.
STARS is examining past data on about 90,000 active-duty soldiers, evaluating soldiers' characteristics and experiences as they relate to subsequent psychological health issues, suicidal behavior and other relevant outcomes, he said.
DOD has added more than 200 mental health professionals from the Public Health Service to medical facilities’ staffs, and is expanding access to services in civilian communities, Woodson said.
“Within the department, we have amended medical doctrine and embedded our mental health professionals far forward … to provide care in theaters of operation,” he added.
The department also has worked to collect, analyze and share data more effectively “so that the entire care team understands the diagnosis and treatment plan,” he said.
“As important as any step, we have also made great attempts to remove stigma from seeking mental health services, a stigma that is common throughout society, and not just in the military,” Woodson continued. “This is a long-term effort, but both senior officers and enlisted leaders are speaking out with a common message.”
Defense leaders are encouraged that service members increasingly now seek professional help when it is recommended, he said.
The entire article can be found here.