Friday, April 03, 2009
The U.S. Department of Defense has chosen a Texas Tech psychologist to lead a three-year study intended to reduce suicides among veterans.
Suicide rates in the U.S. Army reached an all-time high in 2008, according to Army officials. Last year, 128 active-duty soldiers committed suicide, an Army spokesman told The Avalanche-Journal. Another 15 potential suicides are under investigation, he said.
In other branches, suicides are less common. They reported between 38 and 41 suicides last year, according to an Air Force Times story.
The Army’s alarming suicide trend continues this year, said David Rudd, the chairman of Tech’s psychology department who will head the $1.97 million Defense Department study.
“For the first time in history this January, more soldiers died by suicide than in combat.”
The problem is fairly complex, but ultimately, we’ve been in a two-front war now for six years. There have been high rates of psychological problems associated with that, and when that occurs, suicide rates increase,” Rudd is quoted as saying in a Tech news release.
Rudd said his study will examine whether a short-term psychological treatment plan can reduce suicide rates with those who report feeling suicidal.
He will work in conjunction with the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, the Warrior Resiliency Program at Brooke Army Medical Center and the University of Pennsylvania.
In September, Rudd and his team will begin a random clinical trial offering cognitive behavioral psychotherapy to suicidal soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo., according to the Tech news release.
A short-term treatment plan makes sense for the military, which isn’t designed to give long-term psychiatric care, Rudd is quoted as saying in the release.
“When soldiers develop long-term psychological problems, they have to be discharged. We’re not only looking to see if a three-month treatment program will make a difference to reduce suicide attempts, but also whether it will allow soldiers to improve enough to stay in the military,” he said.
Rudd has testified twice before Congress about alarming veteran suicides.
Pinpointing the cause for the high suicide rate in the Army, which now exceeds the national suicide rate, is difficult as each case is unique, said Army officials, who have pledged to address the problem using a multidisciplinary approach.
“We are going to do everything we possibly can to drive it down,” Vice Chief of the Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli recently said in Fort Bragg, N.C.
His own review of 2008 suicides determined more than 70 percent of the cases involved a relationship problem coupled with either a financial, medical, substance abuse or court issue, he said.
The military and the public need to try to eliminate the stigma associated with seeking mental health help, Chiarelli also said at Fort Bragg, according to an Army news release.
A future option may be allowing soldiers to initiate mental health care through the Internet, he said.
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