Army, NIMH Start Big Study of Military Mental Health

About 900,000 servicemembers will be involved during a three-year period, with 100,000 new recruits surveyed annually and followed over time.

The U.S. Army and the National Institute of Mental Health are beginning the largest study to date of suicide and mental health among military personnel. The first part of the study will look at the records of soldiers who committed suicide between 2004 and 2009, compared to a control group of soldiers from the same period who did not.

"The bottom line is, we want to apply science in a way that it's going to solve this problem to the benefit of soldiers," Robert Heinssen, NIMH's acting director of intervention research said during a Nov. 18 interview on the Pentagon Channel podcast, “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military. Researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, including some from Harvard University, Columbia University, and the University of Michigan, will study causes and interventions for various mental disorders.

"By doing this kind of case-controlled study where the individual suicides are the cases and the controls are drawn from the rest of the Army, we think that we'll get some early leads on signals that may tell us something about potential risk and protective factors that will help us target the second part of the study, which will be a survey of soldiers who are currently serving in the active duty component," Heinssen said, according to an article by Christen N. McCluney, of the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate, that was posted Nov. 23 on the DoD Web site. Heinssen said the survey will involve about 90,000 servicemembers during a three-year period, with 100,000 new recruits surveyed annually and folllowed over time by the researchers.

"Our belief is that if we roll out a research program similar in its characteristics to what was done in heart disease, that we will identify risk and protective factors," Heinssen said. "The end game here is to be able to intervene with preventive strategies early in the process so that we keep soldiers healthy and robust, and that we interrupt the kind of process that would lead to acute distress and the tragic choices to take one's life."

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