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Mental health works to reduce suicides

Posted 9/13/2013   Updated 9/13/2013 Email story   Print story


by Rebecca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs

9/13/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- Suicide ends lives. Maxwell's mental health clinic hopes to save them.

After two years of collecting data from more than 150 participants, joint research by mental health and civilian agencies continues to reveal new strategies to improve the quality of life of patients struggling with suicidal inclinations.

Such discoveries will not only help Capt. Neysa Etienne, Maxwell's mental health psychologist, treat her patients more effectively but also benefit the clinical community at large.

"This is something we are called to do in our field: contribute to the body of research to help expand awareness and understanding about such a significant topic," Etienne said. "It gives me information that I can use to help understand better what might be going on with my patients and what I need to focus my energies on clinically."

Etienne and a team of experts from across the nation are combining their resources and expertise to conduct ongoing clinical research for suicide prevention.

The team includes Maj. Chad Morrow from Hurlburt Field, Fla., Craig Bryan from the National Center for Veterans Studies in Utah, and Bobbie-Ray Sannerud from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

Etienne, who works closely with potential suicide victims in the mental health clinic at Maxwell, began gathering data with the team while studying the high statistics of suicide within the military.

"More and more military personnel are dying by suicide in comparison with combat-related injuries," Etienne explained. "So, as a mental health professional in the military, you want to understand what is going on so we can intervene and be effective in our treatment."

Surveys from the research team were given to active-duty military with previous mental health diagnoses at Maxwell. From the data, different types of feelings, particularly shame and guilt, were noted among the participants. Other feelings present in Airmen were depression, hopelessness, pride and the severity of suicidal thoughts.

"Surprisingly, guilt and shame have not had a lot of attention as it relates to potential suicides," Bryan explained. "We have learned quite a bit about their relationship and have begun to formulate new ideas for future research projects."

The data also revealed direct links between the feelings of shame and guilt and severe suicidal tendencies among patients.

Though each case differs by individual, the research has been helpful in steering clinicians toward more effective treatment methods and measures, according to Bryan.

"It has helped us to promote new perspectives in how we talk about problems service members have in their lives both with deployment and non-deployment issues," Bryan said.

The team has published three scientific articles entitled "Guilt, Shame and Suicidal Ideation in a Military Outpatient Clinical Sample" in Depression and Anxiety (Jan. 2013); "Optimism Reduces Suicidal Ideation and Weakens the Effect of Hopelessness among Military Personnel" in Cognitive Therapy and Research (March 2013); and "Guilt is More Strongly Associated with Suicidal Ideation among Personnel with Direct Combat Exposure" in the Journal of Affective Disorders (May 2013).

Additional articles are currently under review, and Maxwell's mental health clinic expects to generate ongoing research on this topic.

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