News: Army STARRS in Korea: Researching suicide and well-being
Article by Wayne A. Hankammer, MA, LPC Suicide Prevention Program manager
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii - 2012 officially exceeded all prior years in the number of suicide deaths within the U.S. Army. The Department of Defense reported 325 suicide deaths of both active duty and non active duty soldiers - not all of these deaths, however, are confirmed suicides.
Suicide is a reality of our Army world. Yet there is no one cause of suicide and there are no simple answers. In fact, it is an extremely complex issue. Facts and myths about suicide fuse together and confuse everyone. Reality check: Suicide is a threat to the force. What we need is accurate information to defeat this threat.
How does the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (Army STARRS) help us accomplish this mission?
In October of 2008, the Army entered into a partnership with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) with the explicit purpose to study suicide in the Army.
Army STARRS represents the largest study ever conducted of mental health, psychological resilience, suicide risk, suicide-related behaviors, and suicide deaths in military personnel. Simple - the goal of the research study is to collect information from soldiers that will help scientists identify factors that help protect a Soldier’s mental health and other factors that place a soldier’s mental health at risk.
There are five separate components of Army STARRS, and between them, they reach soldiers in all phases of Army service. This includes new soldiers as well as soldiers preparing for and returning from deployment.
This article focuses on the All Army Study, the component that works with active duty soldiers around the world.
As part of the All Army Study (AAS), units are randomly selected to participate in a briefing about Army STARRS. During the briefing, soldiers can volunteer to participate. As a part of this partnership with NIMH, the Army requested the help from USARPAC, USAREUR, and MEDCOM to administer the AAS in OCONUS locations and in-theater.
As the USARPAC Unit Survey administrator, our team administered 871 surveys in the Republic of Korea from Feb. 5 at Camp Humphreys to Feb. 7 at Camp Hovey. There were seven sessions total within two units.
We used the Camp Humphreys Chapel for the Feb. 5 sessions and the base theater at Camp Hovey (pictured) for the Feb. 7 sessions. These surveys were the last large-scale AAS surveys conducted OCONUS. The final 95 USARPAC surveys were administered in February at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
One of the great features of the study is confidentiality. Every soldier in the survey session turns in a sealed envelope containing a chaplain card. Soldiers in need of seeing a chaplain can use their card to request a session with the chaplain who will be notified and make every effort to contact the soldier within 24 hours.
We collected these requests from soldiers in sealed blue envelopes then presented them to chaplains’ assistants or to the chaplain directly in the view of the soldiers. The chaplain was also available in both locations on site.
Another feature of Army STARRS is that the soldiers are all volunteers. We had 880 soldiers present for duty with only nine choosing not to participate. Soldiers consent to the survey on a form that is separated from the survey itself except for an initial study identification number.
Names and other personally identifying information are kept separate from the surveys themselves. Surveys are also shipped separately from consent forms. Soldiers are assured that no one in the chain of command will ever see these survey answers.
Instead, the researchers combine information from groups of soldiers to do their analyses. They report their overall findings to the SECARMY, The CSA, and the VCSA every quarter but they never report on individuals.
Indeed, even after the surveys are shipped to the University of Michigan the researchers are protected by law from revealing personal information to government audits or law enforcement. This is important for soldiers to know prior to the beginning of the survey to encourage honest reporting, allowing researchers to fully explore the risk and resiliency factors found in our soldier population.
In the end, 16 large boxes and two small express envelops were shipped back to the University of Michigan. The Eighth Army Command, NCOs and officers engaged in the project from both Camp Humphreys and Camp Hovey were dedicated to the mission assisting COL Lawson from DUSA and me on this historic mission. Many thanks to Eighth Army for their assistance setting up the study administration and coordinating the needed support in transportation, logistics and lodging requirements! Mahalo!
As of Feb. 1, 2013, Army STARRS had 33,065 soldiers participate. In all five service components, a combined 110,785 service members participated.
National Vital Statistic reports, Vol. 60 No. 6 of June 2012 reported suicide in the U.S. claimed 36,035 American lives in 2008. Suicide ranks as the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
Mission: Reduce the number of suicides in the Army as each one impacts the lives of soldiers. When we lose an Army professional to suicide it degrades overall mission readiness.