February 16, 2015 – Short-term cognitive behavioral therapy dramatically reduces suicide attempts among at-risk military personnel, according to findings from a research study that included University of Utah clinical psychologist Craig Bryan, who is also the executive director of the National Center for Veterans Studies.
Bryan and University of Memphis President M. David Rudd directed a two-year study of 152 active duty soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo., who had either attempted suicide or been determined to be at high risk for suicide. The clinical trials evaluated the effectiveness of brief cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, in preventing future suicide attempts. The study was funded by the Army’s Military Operational Medicine Research Program.
Results of the assessment revealed that soldiers receiving CBT were 60 percent less likely to make a suicide attempt during the 24-month follow-up than those receiving usual treatment. The results were just published in The American Journal of Psychiatry. The article is available online at www.ajp.psychiatryonline.org.
“We’re very pleased with the very positive results of this clinical trial, particularly that we’ve been able to develop and implement a treatment that helps improve the lives of our soldiers,” said Rudd.
“The treatment is focused on how to manage stress more effectively, how to think in more helpful ways, and how to remember what is meaningful in life. In essence, the soldier learns how to live a life worth living in a very short period of time,” said Bryan.
“This landmark achievement is the result of several years’ effort by researchers at three universities, the Department of Defense and an exceptional team of Army behavioral health providers at Fort Carson,” he said. “Most importantly, we extend our sincere gratitude to those soldiers who volunteered to participate in this study. Although these soldiers did not know if they would personally benefit from participation, they nonetheless volunteered with the hope that the outcome would benefit other soldiers and service members. I think we can confidently say that they have achieved their objective.”
Rates of active-duty service members receiving psychiatric diagnoses increased by more than 60 percent during a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rates of suicides and suicide attempts rose in comparable numbers.
“The significant increase in military suicides over the past decade is a national tragedy,” said Dr. Alan Peterson, a co-investigator on the study who is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and director of the STRONG STAR Consortium. “The Department of Defense has responded by investing significant resources into military suicide research, and the findings from this study may be the most important and most hopeful to date. To see a 60 percent reduction in suicide attempts among at-risk active duty soldiers after a brief intervention is truly exciting.
“The excellent research partnerships between the University of Memphis, the University of Utah, the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio and Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson contributed to the success of this project.”