Geren said the new partnership with NIMH, the Army Science Board and the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs would build on work that already is under way to conduct the most far-reaching and comprehensive research project ever undertaken on suicide and its prevention.
"It's a five-year study to examine the mental and behavioral health of soldiers, with particular focus on the multiple determinants of suicidal behavior and resiliency across all phases of Army service," Geren said. "Family members and family relationships, including parents and siblings, will also be included in the study where it's appropriate."
The study also will include the National Guard and Army Reserve.
This effort will be followed by an Army Science Board study with the goal of identifying correlated risk factors and recommending mitigation strategies and practices to prevent suicide. At the same time, the secretary said, the Army would not wait for the end of the study to implement mitigation strategies, but would put those strategies into practice as they make themselves clear.
According Dr. Thomas R. Insel, NIMH director, the study will give NIMH a bigger picture on the suicide risk factors of the nation's population, critical information that he said affects the entire United States because the Army is a "microcosm of the nation."
"There are more than 30,000 suicides in the U.S. each year, actually 32,000 in 2006, the most recent year for which we have numbers," he said. "That's almost twice the number of homicides in the country. Suicide is really a significant public health problem. If we can reduce the rate in the Army, it will ultimately reduce the rate in the nation. Those are really the goals for this collaborative effort."
Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said that "suicide rates aren't exactly plummeting."
"Half the suicides we can't figure out what happened, so that's why we need the NIMH's help," he said.
Geren said that of the 115 suicides the Army confirmed in 2007, 36 of the soldiers were deployed at time of death, 50 had been deployed prior to their deaths, and 29 never had been deployed. The secretary said he expects suicide rates for 2008 will be up compared with 2007 rates.
Leipold works at Army News Service.