Suicide in the Military: Can Technology Help Reduce the Risk?

The Department of Veterans Affairs is working to address the growing problem of suicide among members of the military, using technology to strengthen communication between active-duty troops or veterans and the mental health professionals who can help them. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki says that the VA will be making greater use of videoconferences between doctors and their patients, according to a June story from the Associated Press.

Suicides this year among active-duty military personnel now outnumber battle deaths, according to Pentagon statistics (New York Times, June 8). Between January 1 and June 8, 2012, there were 154 suicides—an average of one per day and an 18 percent increase over the number of suicides during the same period in 2011.

The VA is planning to use videoconferencing to eliminate some of the barriers that prevent members of the military from seeking help for feelings of distress or suicidal thoughts. Videoconferencing can reduce the amount of time patients spend traveling, making it more convenient to meet with a health care provider. Shinseki said that members of today’s military are comfortable with online chats, and working with them in this way can help reduce some of the stigma that patients feel about their mental health concerns. ‘‘Shame keeps too many veterans from seeking help,’’ Shinseki said.

The VA is also stepping up its use of electronic health records, according to the AP story. In recent months, Congress has criticized Shinseki about the length of time that some veterans have had to wait before receiving a full mental health evaluation from the VA. By integrating electronic health records among departments, the VA hopes to expedite treatment for veterans who need immediate attention.

VA officials estimate that up to two-thirds of all veterans who commit suicide have never asked for the VA’s help, a reality that Shinseki called frustrating and disheartening. “We know when we diagnose and treat, veterans get better,” he told the audience at a recent veterans suicide prevention conference, “but we can’t influence and help those we don’t see” (Stars and Stripes digital edition).

What do you think? Is videoconferencing a viable option for improving the responsiveness of mental health services for active-duty personnel or veterans? Do you use technology to communicate with clients—military or otherwise—in your practice? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

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One Response

  1. This is so important,and I would love to help, as I am a licensed psychologist.

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