Suicidal behavior among active-duty service members can be reduced for up to six months with a relatively simple intervention that gives them concrete steps to follow during an emotional crisis, according to a new study.

The study’s findings show there was a 75% reduction in suicide attempts among participants who engaged in crisis response planning versus using a contract for safety. The more effective crisis response planning also was associated with a significantly faster decline in suicidal thoughts and fewer inpatient hospitalization days.

According to the Pentagon, there has been a steady increase in active-duty service members committing suicide since 2001. In response to this tragic trend, the Department of Defense and Veterans Health Administration have made suicide prevention a priority, supporting interventions and studies of how to help the nation’s warriors.

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The study compared the effectiveness of two risk management strategies:

Crisis response planning, which involves writing on an index card the steps for identifying one’s personal warning signs along with coping strategies, social support, and professional services as opposed to using safety contracts, which only means getting a commitment from a suicidal patient to avoid self harm.

The researchers also conducted an analysis to see if an enhanced crisis response plan that added an explicit discussion of the participant’s reasons for living would provide even better results, but this enhancement did no better or worse than a standard crisis response plan without this enhancement.

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Each participant had active suicide ideation and/or a lifetime history of attempted suicide and had actively sought help at a military medical clinic in Fort Carson, Colorado, in 2013 and between January 2015 and February 2016. The soldiers were offered one of the three interventions, which varied in the combination of supportive counseling, strategies to manage emotional distress, education about crisis services, and referrals to treatment services. The researchers followed the 97 participants over a six-month follow-up period.

The crisis response plan was a central ingredient of another successful treatment developed by many of the same researchers at the National Center for Veterans Studies – brief cognitive behavioral therapy – which contributed to a 60% reduction in suicide attempts among active duty soldiers.

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“Our previous results showing a significant reduction in suicide attempts were based on a treatment that heavily emphasized crisis response planning,” said Craig J. Bryan, an associate professor of psychology and director of the U’s National Center for Veterans Studies and leader of the research team. “This time around, we tested crisis response planning by itself and found that it reduced suicide attempts as well. This bolsters our confidence in the technique’s effectiveness.”

Overall, the findings show that giving active-duty service members who are at risk of suicide a crisis response plan may be a more effective way to keep them safe than a contract for safety. And because of its brevity and simplicity, the crisis response plan strategy could feasibly be implemented in a wide range of medical settings by diverse health care professionals.

“Suicidal individuals don’t always visit mental health clinics when in crisis,” Bryan said. “They also visit emergency departments and primary care clinics or talk to friends and family members. Crisis response planning could be a practical and effective way to connect those in greatest need of potentially life-saving treatment.”

Click To Share The Breakthrough With Your Friends – (Source: University of Utah – Photo by Hire Patriots)

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