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Defense Officials Testify About DOD's Suicide Prevention Efforts

April 6, 2022 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Defense Department officials today testified before a Senate Armed Services subcommittee about suicide prevention measures the department is taking.

Karin A. Orvis, director of DOD's Defense Suicide Prevention Office, was one of a number of witnesses at a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel hearing.

"I'm deeply disheartened by the rates of suicide in our military. Every suicide is heartbreaking, resulting in horrifying pain of losing a loved one. This drives us every day to find answers to ensure those who need help ask for and receive that help. And to be certain that not another son or daughter, brother or sister, or mother or father must also live with the searing pain and emptiness that never goes away after losing a loved one to suicide," she said.

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This is a shared challenge, Orvis said. Nationwide, suicide rates are alarming, and the department continues to see a heightened risk for young, enlisted service members.

The department uses the suicide prevention practices shown to be the most effective by the broader scientific community, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said.

Last month, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III directed the creation of the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee to conduct a comprehensive review of the department's efforts to prevent suicide that will inform long-term progress, she said.

Orvis also said the department is using improved training and research methodology in its suicide prevention efforts.

Hands are clasped.
Suicide Prevention
Military personnel are encouraged to reach out for help if they are having thoughts of suicide.
Photo By: Health.mil
VIRIN: 210901-O-D0439-001B

Department data indicate that suicide is often a sudden and impulsive act. Lives can be saved by adding time and distance between a person's suicidal thoughts and a weapon or other means of harming oneself, she said.

Evidence points to the positive impact of safely storing firearms and medications, she said, adding that enhanced training for nonmedical providers about suicide risk is also important.

Dr. Richard Mooney, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for health services policy and oversight, testified that the department is encouraging people who need help to seek help and is working to eliminate the stigma associated with seeking mental health clinical services.

"Suicide rates among our service members and our military families are too high," he said.

Hands clasp.
Suicide Prevention
Military personnel are encouraged to reach out for help if they are having thoughts of suicide.
Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 210901-O-D0439-003B

DOD is also working to have enough mental health professionals to provide timely care for 100% of active-duty service members, he said.

In addition, DOD and the Department of Veterans Affairs have co-developed clinical practice guidelines to address suicide and conditions that increase the risk of suicide, including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression and substance use disorders, he said.

“We know from research that suicide results from a complex interaction of many factors, so while there's no single solution in suicide prevention, the clinical practice guidelines reduce unwanted variants in prevention and treatment of those contemplating suicide," he said.

"While we remain vigilant in the effort to combat stigma, data suggests we're trending in the right direction. This is suggested by increasing demand for mental health services, which indicates that service members feel less reluctant to get the help they need and deserve," Mooney said.