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Identifying Modifiable Risk Factors for Suicidality

Concept Clearance


Robert K. Heinssen, Ph.D., ABPP
Adult Treatment and Preventive Intervention Research Branch
Division of Services and Intervention Research


This initiative will evaluate selected samples of soldiers across all phases of United States Army Service, both cross-sectionally and longitudinally, to identify modifiable risk factors, mediators, and moderators of suicide-related behaviors, as well as protective factors. The goal of this research is to evaluate multiple determinants of suicide related-events, for the purpose of developing effective strategies for mitigating suicide risk and preventing suicide behaviors.


The high rates of mental health and behavioral adjustment problems among recent U.S. military combat veterans, and the increasing rates of suicide among U.S. Army soldiers, are of growing concern. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in collaboration with the U.S. Army, intends to explore the feasibility of a rigorous evaluation of the mental and behavioral health of soldiers in the U.S. Army, the U.S. Army Reserve, and the Army National Guard, with an emphasis on identifying precursors of suicidal behavior, including psychological, physiological, interpersonal, and life event factors, as well as potential protective mechanisms, across all phases of Army service. The overall objective of this research is to present data-driven recommendations for mitigating or preventing suicide behaviors and improving the overall mental health and behavioral functioning of Army personnel during and after their military service.

From a scientific and public health perspective, a prospective study of distal and proximal risk and protective factors, and their evolution over time and place, represents a unique opportunity to push the epidemiology of suicide beyond solely descriptive studies. NIMH envisions an analytic approach that will test theories of suicide risk, suicidality, and psychological resilience by collecting data from U.S. Army population samples – including targeted samples of salient subgroups hypothesized to have elevated suicide risk based on prior research - and following them over time, with the intent of informing the development and testing of effective interventions to prevent and treat suicidality and associated mental and behavioral health problems among soldiers.

This initiative responds to the following objectives from the NIMH Strategic Plan: Strategic Objective 2.3, “Develop tools to better define and identify risk and protective factors for mental illness across the lifespan” and Strategic Objective 3.1, “Further develop innovative interventions and designs for intervention studies.”