Veteran-specific suicide prevention

June 20, 2013

News Type:  Weekly Spark Research

A report describing suicide prevention activities for veterans has been issued by researchers from the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Medical Center at the University of South Carolina. This publication also explores the gaps in four areas these activities should impact, according to the researchers: society (i.e. health status and knowledge and behaviors related to health status); research; policy; and services.

This review of the societal impact of suicide prevention activities targeting veterans concluded that some groups of veterans continue to have an elevated risk of suicide. These groups include veterans with combat experience, veterans affected by depression and other psychiatric disorders, and veterans who live in rural areas (who compose 41 percent of people enrolled in the VA health care system). The authors also speculated that the elevated risk of suicide among female veterans “may comprise a hidden epidemic” and recommended more research on suicide among female veterans as well as prevention efforts specifically designed for female veterans.

The policy review confirmed that suicide prevention is a priority for federal agencies that serve veterans and members of the military. The authors recognized the VA as a leader in implementing system-level suicide prevention interventions as well as evidence-based practices that specifically target suicidal behaviors among individuals. They recommended that veterans would benefit from the creation of a “comprehensive strategic plan for veteran-specific suicide prevention” that would establish priorities for “the dissemination and adoption of suicide-specific, evidence-based practice for providers” as well as outline an agenda to “address research gaps in gender, culture, multicomponent approaches, provider training, and system adoption of best practices.”

These research gaps include the need for additional research on “telemedicine, primary care mental health, monitoring of high risk periods, gender-specific approaches, psychosocial programs, therapeutic relationships, cost effectiveness, and health disparities.”  

The review of the service impact concluded that “the basic assumption of the VA is that suicide prevention requires access to a high quality mental health care system and activities that specifically target suicide” and have developed tools and programs to provide this care and these services. The authors stated that, to be successful, “it is imperative that VA mental health providers develop and maintain competencies in suicide-specific practice, such as the national Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk (AMSR) competencies.”  They also recommended that “veteran-specific suicide prevention educational and outreach campaigns should be developed to target subgroups, such as the elderly, women, and rural Veterans.”

York, J. A., Lamis, D. A., Pope, C. A, & Egede, L. E. (2013). Veteran-specific suicide preventionPsychiatric Quarterly, 84(2), 219-238.