Nav: Home

It doesn't take much for soldiers to feel cared for

February 14, 2019

A soldier named Jerome Motto received caring letters from home in World War II. They helped boost his spirits and later led to one of the nation's first successful suicide interventions.

Today, with military personnel being more mobile, researchers tested out the effectiveness of caring texts sent to active-duty military.

The study of 658 randomized participants at three military installations was led by Kate Comtois, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The results were published Feb. 13 in JAMA Psychiatry along with a podcast with the researchers.

Comtois said the most significant finding was that the caring contacts reduced the odds of a suicide attempt. The contacts lowered the risk from 15 percent to 9 percent.

"Caring contacts is an entirely different way to engage and take care of suicidal individuals," she said. "It can both prevent suicidal behavior and provide support over periods of stress and transition."

As for the primary aims -- reducing current suicidal ideation and suicide risk incidents, such as hospitalizations or medical evacuation -- the study was inconclusive. But the study did have impactful findings and secondary outcomes as well as clinical implications.

The study recruited Army and Marine Corps personnel identified as being at risk of suicide at three bases in the United States. The control group was given 11 text messages from a clinician, who engaged with the service members, including calling them on the phone if they were feeling urgent distress.

This simple intervention builds on the work of Jerome Motto, a World War II soldier who became a psychiatrist and researcher. He used caring letters to conduct the first successful clinical trial to reduce suicide deaths.

Military personnel historically have had a lower rate of suicide than the general population, Today, however, veterans have a 50 percent higher incidence of suicide than the general population, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs Suicide Data Report, 2006-2016. In 2018, the U.S. military experienced the highest number of suicides among active-duty personnel in at least six years. A total of 321 active-duty members took their lives during the year (57 Marines, 68 sailors, 58 airmen, and 138 soldiers), according to Military.com.

In this study, just under 14 percent of text responses mentioned difficulty and adversity, but after a few exchanges with a clinician, the service member felt better, said Amanda Kerbrat, a research scientist with the UW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

"Most people didn't seem to need much to get the message that someone cared and was looking out for them," she said.

During the study, which took place from April 2013 to September 2016, five service members indicated they were suicidal and were called by a clinician immediately, said Kerbrat.

Two accompanying editorials in JAMA Psychiatry addressed the research by Comtois and colleagues.

"Comtois et al have confirmed that is possible to conduct high-value suicide prevention research in the active-duty military," wrote three researchers at University of California, San Diego, Harvard Medical School and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

Charles Hoge, with the Center for Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland, called the study a "hallmark clinical trial from the DoD [Department of Defense] portfolio." Hoge, however, said the study joins other intervention trials in delivering primarily null or inconclusive findings in military and veteran populations. He noted that only 30 percent of veterans are engaged in Veterans Affairs care, and he laid out what needs to be understood and implemented to prevent more suicides.

For the researchers, caring texts is something that can be implemented with some guidelines.

"The intervention is ready for prime time," said Comtois, noting that healthcare systems still need to sort out issues such how as who will be delivering the messages and guidelines for what they will include. She and colleagues are working on a free toolkit for healthcare providers.
-end-


University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Related Suicide Articles:

Suicide mortality and COVID-19
Reasons why U.S. suicide rates may rise in tandem with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic are explained in this article that also describes opportunities to expand research and care.
Media reports of celebrity suicide linked to increased suicide rates
Media reporting of suicide, especially celebrity suicides, is associated with increases in suicide in the general population, particularly by the same method as used by the celebrity, finds an analysis of the latest evidence published by The BMJ today.
More youth suicide found in poor communities across US
A study led by Jennifer Hoffmann, M.D., from Ann & Robert H.
BU study finds new factors linked to suicide
A new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers finds that physical illness and injury raises the risk of suicide in men but not women, along with a plethora of other insights into the complex factors that may increase a person's risk of suicide.
Investigating the full spectrum of suicide
A recent study published in Injury Prevention described a method for categorizing self-injury mortality (SIM) to help us better examine national trends for today's epidemics of suicide and drug-related deaths.
Between 16 and 18% of preadolescents have ideas of suicide
Thinking of taking one's own life (ideation), planning it, threatening to do it or even attempting to do it is regarded as suicidal behaviour.
Social networks and suicide prevention
Depression and mental health problems are increasing - and suicide and drug overdose rates are rising dramatically in the USA.
Stoic, resourceful -- and at risk for suicide
A new study led by a University of Georgia researcher, in collaboration with epidemiologists from the Georgia Department of Public Health, has identified some common factors associated with farmer suicide that may help health providers develop strategies to reduce suicide risk.
Five things to know about physician suicide
Physician suicide is an urgent problem with rates higher than suicide rates in the general public, with potential for extensive impact on health care systems.
Severe tinnitus associated with suicide attempts in women
Previously, severe ringing in the ears (tinnitus) has been associated with depression and anxiety, and a 2016 study reported an association with increased risk of suicide attempts.
More Suicide News and Suicide Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.