Study questions programs to prevent psychological problems for troops

February 21, 2014

Many federal programs aimed at preventing psychological problems for military service members and their families have not been evaluated correctly to determine whether they are working or supported by science, says a new report commissioned by theDefense Department.

"A lot of their programs don't have any good data behind them," said Kenneth Warner, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan who led the Institute of Medicine committee that producedthe report. "We remain uncertain about which approaches work and which ones are ineffective."

The report was especially critical of the Pentagon's biggest and costliest , known asComprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, which is used throughoutthe Army.

Based on the principles of positivepsychology, it includes training in assertiveness, negotiation and coping strategies such as maintaining an optimistic outlook on life. About 900,000 soldiers receive the training each year at a cost of $50 million. The program was recently expanded to include families of service members.

The Army has portrayed it as a success based on internal reviews that found soldiers saw small improvements on some measures of psychological health.

But the medical committee concluded that the gains were not clinically meaningful. The program did not reduce rates ofpost-traumatic stress disorderor depression.

"The effects were so small," Warner said. "The amount of money being spent was so large. It did not look like a meaningful investment."

An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. S. Justin Platt, said the program was not designed to prevent PTSD and depression, but rather to improve social, emotional, spiritual, family and physical well-being. He said the Army stood by its conclusions and that found the training effective.

"Firsthand testimonies that tell how the program changed their life, saved their marriage or saved the life of a fellow soldier are more powerful than any report," he said in an email.

Though leaders would have preferred a long-term scientific study before introducing the program Army-wide, they had to act quickly and rely on the best available evidence, Platt said.

Years of war have taken a heavy toll on the of U.S. troops. Rates of mental illness among active-duty troops rose 62 percent between 2000 and 2011, according to the report. More than 935,000 current or former service members were diagnosed with adjustment disorders, depression, and other over that time. The suicide rate nearly doubled between 2005 and 2010.

Families have also suffered, with researchers charting elevated rates of anxiety and depression in military spouses and children.

More than 90 prevention programs are scattered throughout the military. Experts said the total cost was difficult to calculate but that it could easily top $1 billion.

The Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academies, reviewed a broad sample of those programs - from resilience training to education and awareness campaigns designed to prevent suicide.

Though some programs have proven results, most did not.

The committee was unable to find any evidence-based programs to prevent domestic abuse in military families. And though sexual assault in the military is getting more attention, the military has no way to measure whether its prevention programs are working, the study concluded.

At the same time, some proven interventions are not being used, the committee found. Researchers said there was ample evidence to suggest that limiting access to personal firearms on military bases would reduce suicides. About 60 percent of service members who kill themselves do it with guns, usually their own.

"Means restriction has been demonstrated to work," said David Rudd, a psychologist and suicide expert at the University of Memphis who served on the committee.

But in 2011, Congress prohibited the Defense Department from regulating legally owned personal firearms and ammunition on military bases.

Explore further: APNewsBreak: Military suicides drop; unclear why (Update)

Related Stories

APNewsBreak: Military suicides drop; unclear why (Update)

November 11, 2013
Suicides across the U.S. military have dropped by more than 22 percent this year, defense officials said, amid an array of new programs targeting what the Defense Department calls an epidemic that took more service members' ...

Lighting up in uniform: Study looks at what makes soldiers reach for a pack of cigarettes or not

January 29, 2014
Is it possible to predict which soldier will start smoking and which one will maybe quit? Yes, says Christopher B. Harte of the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine in the US, ...

US reports spike in suicides among youngest vets

January 10, 2014
There has been a sharp increase in the suicide rate among the youngest U.S. male veterans, and a smaller but still significant jump among women who served in the military, the Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday.

US must step up response to vets, report says

March 26, 2013
(HealthDay)—Timely and adequate health care is needed to help U.S. military personnel and their families readjust to life after deployment, an Institute of Medicine report finds.

Teens from military families suffer from deployments

November 20, 2013
It is widely known that deployment is stressful for military families, including their children. A new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds that teens from military families are more likely to feel sad or hopeless, ...

Mayo Clinic suicide prevention expert outlines new steps to tackle military suicide

September 10, 2012
The suicide rate in the U.S. Army now exceeds the rate in the general population, and psychiatric admission is now the most common reason for hospitalization in the Army. These concerning trends are described by Timothy Lineberry, ...

Recommended for you

High moral reasoning associated with increased activity in the human brain's reward system

August 22, 2017
Individuals who have a high level of moral reasoning show increased activity in the brain's frontostriatal reward system, both during periods of rest and while performing a sequential risk taking and decision making task ...

Wealth disparity and family income impact the brain development of female youth

August 22, 2017
Female teenagers living in neighbourhoods with wide salary gaps and a low-income household show changes to their brain maturation that could indicate a higher risk of developing mental illness in adulthood, suggests a recently ...

Yoga and meditation improve mind-body health and stress resilience

August 22, 2017
Many people report positive health effects from practicing yoga and meditation, and experience both mental and physical benefits from these practices. However, we still have much to learn about how exactly these practices ...

Brain's self-regulation in teens at risk for obesity

August 22, 2017
In a small study that scanned the brains of teenagers while exposing them to tempting "food cues," researchers report that reduced activity in the brain's "self-regulation" system may be an important early predictor of adult ...

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.