Suicide Postvention in the Department of Defense: Evidence, Policies and Procedures, and Perspectives of Loss Survivors

Suicide Postvention in the Department of Defense: Evidence, Policies and Procedures, and Perspectives of Loss Survivors

Suicide Postvention in the Department of Defense: Evidence, Policies and Procedures, and Perspectives of Loss Survivors

Suicide Postvention in the Department of Defense: Evidence, Policies and Procedures, and Perspectives of Loss Survivors

Synopsis

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has been struggling with increasing rates of suicide among military personnel for the past decade. As DoD continues to implement new programs and examine its policies in an effort to prevent military personnel from taking their own lives, it is important to assess its current responses to suicide and to identify opportunities to enhance these programs and policies. Unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence on how best to respond to suicides, how to ensure that surveillance activities are managed appropriately and that loss survivors are given sufficient support to grieve, how additional suicides can be prevented, and how to honor and respect the decedent and his or her loved ones. At the same time, there are many resource guides intended to provide recommendations for organizations (mostly schools) in responding to suicides. A review of the existing scientific evidence on postvention (responses to prevent additional suicides in the aftermath of a suicide) and guidance for other types of organizations provides potential insights for DoD, however. Complemented by the perspectives of those most intimately touched by military suicide — the family and friends of those who have died — these sources may help DoD formulate its guidance in a practical and sensitive way.

Excerpt

Background

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has been struggling with increasing rates of suicide among military personnel for the past decade. Reports from a congressionally directed task force, an Army task force, and the RAND National Defense Research Institute have all made a series of recommendations to help DoD address this issue. DoD continues to implement new programs and examine its policies in an effort to prevent more military men and women from taking their own lives.

Purpose

The objective of this research was to assess DoD’s response to suicides among military personnel and to identify opportunities for enhancing DoD programs and policies. This report has two purposes.

First, an earlier RAND report, The War Within: Preventing Suicide in the U.S. Military (Ramchand, Acosta, et al., 2011), recommended that DoD “provide formal guidance to commanders about how to respond to suicides and suicide attempts.” This report reviews the scientific evidence to date, complemented by the perspectives of those most intimately touched by military suicide—the family and friends of those who have died—to help DoD formulate its guidance in a practical and efficient way.

In compiling this report and conducting the literature review, it became apparent that there is little scientific evidence about how best to respond to suicides, how to ensure that surveillance activities are managed appropriately and that loss survivors are given sufficient support to grieve, how additional suicides can be prevented, and how to honor and respect the decedent and his or her loved ones. At the same time, there are many resource guides intended to provide recommendations for organizations (mostly schools) in responding to suicides. We reviewed a large number of these resource guides to identify and categorize their recommendations. We then assessed what research evidence exists to support each recommendation. The purpose of this review was to help leaders craft a coordinated response to suicide by informing them of which strategies they should prioritize adopting. In an area as emotionally wrought as suicide response, it is imperative that we not conflate emotion with science, and this report seeks to help distinguish between the two.

Throughout this report, we use the phrase loss survivors to refer to the family and friends of a person who has taken his or her own life.

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