WASHINGTON, DC—The Military Operational Medicine Research Program (MOMRP) has announced that it has established a new $17 million Military Suicide Research Consortium (MSRC).
The Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Florida State University have each been awarded $8.5 million over three years to direct the consortium. The consortium will help develop studies to find the best ways to conduct suicide screening, prevention, and intervention in the military.
Col Carl Castro, MOMRP director, underscored the need for scientifically proven prevention and screening methods. He noted that currently none of the suicide prevention training used by the military is evidence-based. “[They are] good ideas, experts thinking that is what we need to do, but we do not have any evidence that that training actually, in fact, prevents suicides.”
A database of suicide research that is relevant to the military will be created as part of the consortium’s work. The system will be searchable and can be used to provide suicide research data to policymakers and others. “It is our fervent hope that we inform suicide prevention, not only in the military, but beyond in the civilian populations as well,” Thomas Joiner, PhD, of Florida State University, who serves as one of the co-directors of the MSRC.
Consortium Addresses Suicide Questions
The efforts of the consortium are different from previous research in that rather than creating a single study, a coordinated set of studies will be developed, according to co-director Peter Gutierrez, PhD, of the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center. External advisory boards will help identify gaps in the current literature on military suicide and the consortium will work with a pool of researchers from around the world to develop research proposals and conduct the research.
Gutierrez explained that little is currently known about existing suicide screening and assessment tools when they are applied to the military. Challenges exist in particular in theater with regards to all aspects to suicide assessment, prevention, and intervention. “Most screening and assessment tools were developed for use with civilians. Even though it is reasonable to expect a suicide ideation scale that was developed for use in civilians would be appropriate when used for active duty military personnel, we don’t have scientific data to confirm that is the fact or the case. So, the consortium allows us to design studies to answer those kinds of questions.”
Joiner said that the consortium will pose significant questions of research about suicidal behavior such as: What is the best way to approach suicide risk assessment in a challenging environment in an efficient way? What are the best ways to treat suicidal behavior? What are the most efficient and realistic ways to engage in suicide prevention in a military context?
Moving Forward with Suicide Research
Castro said that consortium’s research will differ from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS), a major study on which the Army is partnering with the National Institute of Mental Health.
The STARRS study is the largest study of suicide and mental health among military personnel ever undertaken and is designed to identify modifiable risk and protective factors related to mental health and suicide. “The STARRS is a risk and resilience epidemiological study. It is not designed, nor is it intended to develop interventions for preventing, identifying, or treating servicemembers who are suicidal. This consortium is focused on everything that the STARRS effort is not focused on,” Castro explained.
He noted that while the consortium’s work, which will span three years, “will not solve the suicide problem in the military,” it is hoped that it will lay a solid foundation for other research to be built on. “Our long term goal, of course, is to ensure that we have a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to suicide prevention, assessment, and treatment.”
The studies conducted by the consortium should be relevant not only for managing the problem in the military context, but worldwide, according to the researchers. In addition, the database of research that will be created will help inform the military and others involved in suicide research. “We will be working out agreements with other research teams around the world who are conducting relevant research, and hopefully, gathering preliminary data from them as well so it is all available in one centralized data warehouse that will be fully searchable and fully queryable,” said Gutierrez.