Developing a Behavioural Health Readiness & Suicide Risk Reduction Review for Military Personnel

Research Paper Title

Development of the US Army’s Suicide Prevention Leadership Tool: The Behavioural Health Readiness and Suicide Risk Reduction Review (R4).

Background

Although numerous efforts have aimed to reduce suicides in the US Army, completion rates have remained elevated.

Army leaders play an important role in supporting soldiers at risk of suicide, but existing suicide-prevention tools tailored to leaders are limited and not empirically validated.

The purpose of this article is to describe the process used to develop the Behavioral Health Readiness and Suicide Risk Reduction Review (R4) tools for Army leaders that are currently undergoing empirical validation with two US Army divisions.

Methods

Consistent with a Secretary of the Army directive, approximately 76 interviews and focus groups were conducted with Army leaders and subject matter experts (SMEs) to obtain feedback regarding existing practices for suicide risk management, leader tools, and institutional considerations.

In addition, reviews of the empirical literature regarding predictors of suicide and best practices for the development of practice guidelines were conducted. Qualitative feedback, empirical predictors of suicide, and design considerations were integrated to develop the R4 tools.

A second series of 11 interviews and focus groups with Army leaders and SMEs was also conducted to validate the design and obtain feedback regarding the R4 tools.

Results

Leaders described preferences for:

  • Tool processes (e.g. incorporating engaged leadership, including multiple risk identification methods);
  • Formatting (e.g. one page);
  • Organisation (e.g. low-intermediate-high risk scoring system);
  • Content (e.g. excluding other considerations related to vehicle safety, including readiness implications); and
  • Implementation (e.g. accounting for leadership judgement, tailoring process to specific leadership echelons, consideration of institutional barriers).

Evidence-based predictors of suicide risk and practice guideline considerations (e.g. design) were integrated with leadership feedback to develop the R4 tools that were tailored to specific leadership echelons.

Leaders provided positive feedback regarding the R4 tools and described the importance of accounting for potential institutional barriers to implementation. This feedback was addressed by including recommendations regarding the implementation of standardized support meetings between different echelons of leadership.

Conclusions

The R4 development process entailed the simultaneous integration of leadership feedback with evidence-based predictors of suicide risk and design considerations.

Thus, the development of these tools builds upon previous Army leadership tools by specifically tailoring elements of those tools to accommodate leader preferences, accounting for potential implementation barriers (e.g. institutional factors), and empirically evaluating the implementation of those tools.

Future studies should consider utilising a similar process to develop empirically based resources that are more likely to be incorporated into the routine practice of leaders supporting soldiers at risk of suicide, very often located at the company level and below.

Reference

Curley, J.M., Penix, E.A., Srinivasan, J., Sarmiento, D.S., McFarling, L.H., Newman, J.B. & Wheeler, L.A. (2020) Development of the U.S. Army’s Suicide Prevention Leadership Tool: The Behavioral Health Readiness and Suicide Risk Reduction Review (R4). Military Medicine. 185(5-6), pp.e668-e677. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usz380.

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