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Updated 10:00 AM July 27, 2009

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ISR joins study of military suicide, mental health

The Institute for Social Research (ISR) is one of four research institutions selected to carry out the largest study to date of suicide and mental health among military personnel.

With $50 million in funding from the U.S. Army, the new study is a collaborative program of research that also will involve scientists from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the U.S. Army.

"The goal of this five-year study is to identify modifiable risk and protective factors related to suicidal behavior and to provide a scientific basis for guiding the Army's ongoing efforts to prevent suicide and improve soldiers' overall psychological health and functioning," says ISR research scientist Steven Heeringa, principal investigator on the study. Heeringa directs the Statistical Design Group in the ISR Survey Research Center.

Since 2001 the suicide rate for soldiers has climbed, reaching record levels in 2007 and again in 2008 despite major prevention and intervention efforts by the Army over this period.

ISR's role in this collaborative study will be to design and conduct several large-scale survey data collections, and to build and manage the study research databases in a way that protects the identity and privacy of Army personnel.

For the project, ISR will survey 90,000 active Army personnel representative of the entire Army, including active members of the National Guard and Reserves, in order to obtain information on the prevalence of suicide-related behavior, as well as risk and protective factors. In addition to obtaining behavioral information, ISR also will obtain saliva and blood samples for genetic and biologic analyses.

ISR also will survey all 80,000 to 120,000 recruits who join the Army in each of the first three years of the study.

The research team also will conduct a case-controlled retrospective study, comparing information on soldiers who have attempted or completed suicide with those who have not.

The study is the result of an agreement between the Army and the NIMH. The lead principal investigator is Dr. Robert Ursano at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. Also participating are Harvard Medical School (Ronald Kessler) and Columbia University (Dr. John Mann).

In addition to Heeringa, other U-M researchers affiliated with the project are psychologist Christopher Peterson, survey research experts Mick Couper, Nancy Gebler, Beth-Ellen Pennell and Trivellore Raghunathan, and data archivist Peter Granda.

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