Mental Health Research and Resources for Military Veterans and Families
By Jim Lorraine, President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership
The month of May & June is recognized as Mental Health & PTSD Awareness Month, but it is important for military veteran communities to keep the conversation around mental health resources alive all year-round. There are many research projects that have recently been completed alongside the launch of new initiatives that are examining the causes and factors behind various mental health conditions ranging from post-traumatic stress to depression. More importantly, these projects are helping communities and veteran-serving organizations identify beneficial forms of aid that they can offer to veterans, military families and caregivers who are in need.
Our team at America’s Warrior Partnership is involved in several research projects related to mental health and wellness within veteran communities, and we hope the findings of these initiatives will inform service providers of the latest and most effective means of support that are available to veterans.
Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported in 2014 that an average of 20 veterans died from suicide every day. This is a serious issue that is made more complicated by the wide range of potential factors unique to each veteran that can potentially lead to suicide or self-harm. Most studies to date have generalized the potential indicators of suicide without focusing on the factors present at the local community level that may have an impact. A new research initiative launched earlier this year called Operation Deep Dive will examine this under-studied area and determine how the communities in which veterans work, live and receive support services can affect the potential for a suicide to occur.
America’s Warrior Partnership launched Operation Deep Dive earlier this year in partnership with University of Alabama researchers and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. The four-year study aims to identify the risk factors that lead to suicide within veteran communities by using unique methodologies that have never before been applied to such research. In addition to investigating individual risk factors, such as mood disorders or substance abuse, the project will track how a community’s engagement with veterans can affect the prevention of suicides.
The project will study veterans across the spectrum of service, gender and lifespan to evaluate how factors such as a less-than-honorable discharge or an inability to receive support services may impact veteran suicides. For the first half of the study, researchers will work within seven communities that are affiliated with America’s Warrior Partnership to conduct a five-year retrospective look at veteran suicides and suspected suicides. Community Advisory Boards will also be formed in each community to ensure local medical examiners, community leaders and veteran family members will be involved in the direction of the research. Through this partnership, researchers will geo-map veteran suicides and suspected suicides within each community to determine the geographical and cultural contexts that may impact the likelihood of suicide.
Building on these findings, the second half of the study will incorporate input from the Community Advisory Boards to conduct a “social autopsy” that identifies the common patterns that may be a precursor to a veteran taking his or her life.
Qualitative interviews will also be conducted with veterans at higher risk for suicide, in addition to a quantitative statistical analysis drawing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and more, to determine the potential community and social factors related to veteran suicides. This same process will also be conducted with seven communities that are not affiliated with America’s Warrior Partnership to evaluate the impact that community engagement may have on veteran suicides.
This will provide an unprecedented level of perspective and insight into veteran suicide risk factors. As the research is completed over the next four years, the team will publicize its findings to help veteran-serving organizations and community leaders create more effective programs to prevent and reduce suicide among veterans.
For two years in a row, the America’s Warrior Partnership Annual Community Integration Survey Report has found that recreation is the most sought-after resource by veterans, their families and caregivers. This finding has spurred many of our affiliate communities to focus on connecting veterans with recreational opportunities. We are also supporting research projects at Clemson University that are investigating the impact of recreation-based health and wellness programs for veterans.
An initial study published by Clemson researchers in the Journal of Cogent Psychology found that veterans who participate in recreation-based health and wellness programs experience a positive impact on their mental health functioning. The study, titled “Preliminary Long-Term Health Outcomes Associated with Recreation-based Health & Wellness Programs for Injured Service Members,” is one of the first of its kind to examine the long-term duration of the benefits veterans experience through participating in these programs. Results showed that veterans maintained positive psychological health changes up to six months after participation.
The Clemson research team that led this project is planning to conduct future studies that examine how recreation and leisure can affect the reintegration of military families who have experienced a combat deployment.
As we wait to learn the results of these future studies, America’s Warrior Partnership is
working to provide veterans and their families with greater awareness of and access to recreation-based programs.
As an example, the Four Star Alliance, which was formerly known as the R4 Alliance, is one of our newest membership programs that is made up of organizations that provide adaptive sports, therapeutic recreation and wellness services to military veterans. There are currently dozens of service providers participating in the Four Star Alliance, each working together so that when a veteran needs assistance in an area that is outside of their current capabilities they can turn to this extended network of support and connect that veteran with the right recreation-based program for his or her needs.
Mental health awareness should be a focus of the veteran community year-round, and we’re dedicated to continuing the conversation on a national and local level in the months to come.
For those interested in learning more about upcoming research projects, visit www.AmericasWarriorPartnership.org/all-news to see the latest announcements. Organizations and veterans interested in the Four Star Alliance can learn more at www.FourStarAlliance.org.
About the Author
Jim Lorraine is President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership, a national non-profit that helps veteran service organizations connect with veterans, military members and families in need.
Learn more about the organization at www.AmericasWarriorPartnership.org.