In an effort to address the rising suicide rate among its soldiers, the U.S. Army has partnered with the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct the largest research project ever undertaken on the subject of suicide risk and prevention.
NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on Oct. 23 to launch a new, multi-year initiative to study the mental and behavioral health of soldiers across all phases of Army service. The main goals of the study are to identify the risk and resilience factors relevant to suicidal thinking
and behavior, with the intention of developing tools to protect soldiers from suicide. Family members and family relationships will be included in the study where appropriate.
At a media roundtable held Oct. 29 to discuss the MOA, Geren lauded the partnership
as the first of its kind. “We are hopeful and optimistic that this partnership
between the Army and NIMH will result in a quantum leap ahead in our understanding of suicide and methods to prevent it,” he stated.
Insel noted that the Army has been active in working to better understand suicide
and help prevent it among its soldiers. “The Army is already engaged in a broad surveillance program and is developing and disseminating suicide interventions,”
he said. “They’ve asked us to develop a program that can identify risk factors and protective factors following the approach used to identify cardiovascular
risk in the classic Framingham study. This is a great opportunity to better
understand and mitigate suicide in a large population.” The ongoing Framingham
study, begun in 1948, has led to extensive information on the effects of heart disease risk factors.
|Present at the MOA signing were (seated, from l) Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., chief of staff of the Army; Secretary of the Army Pete Geren; NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel. Standing are (from l) Lt. Gen. Edgar E. Stauton, Lt. Gen. Stephen M. Speaks, assistant secretary of defense Dr. S. Ward Casscells and Drs. Philip Wang, Robert Heinssen and Michael Shoenbaum of NIMH.
Insel said the project not only will provide critical information that will save soldiers’
lives, but also will help civilians. “Outside of the military, suicide is a major public health problem. More than 30,000 suicides occur every year, almost twice that of the homicide rate. In a sense, the Army population could be seen as a microcosm of the nation. Understanding how to reduce suicide in this one population
will allow us to help the nation as a whole.”
The MOA calls for the Army to fund the project up to $50 million over 5 years. The details are still being worked out within the extramural Division of Services and Interventions Research at NIMH.