Brief CBT Reduces Suicide Attempts among At-Risk Soldiers

New research finds that short-term cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) dramatically reduces suicide attempts among at-risk military personnel.

Investigators from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio led the two-year study on 152 active-duty soldiers who had either attempted suicide or had been determined to be at high risk for suicide. All soldiers were stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado.

They found that soldiers receiving CBT were 60 percent less likely to make a suicide attempt during the 24-month follow-up than those receiving standard treatment.

The results have been published online by The American Journal of Psychiatry.

The findings are particularly encouraging, given that 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 Alan Peterson, Ph.D., a co-investigator on the study.

“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,” Peterson said.

Other University of Texas Health Science Center investigators included Stacey Young-McCaughan, RN, Ph.D., and Jim Mintz, Ph.D.

M. David Rudd, Ph.D., president of the University of Memphis, and Craig Bryan, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at the University of Utah and executive director of the National Center for Veterans Studies, led the study.

“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,” Rudd said.

“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,” Bryan said.

“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,” Bryan continued.

“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.”

Source: University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio