June 19, 2013

ICDS seminar “Preventing Military Suicides: International Experience and Best Practice”

On June 17, the ICDS hosted a seminar “Preventing Military Suicides: International Experience and Best Practice”. Speakers from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, the United Kingdom and the United States shared the latest research data and knowledge about military suicide prevention policies, practices and challenges in their defence organisations. The seminar was conducted with the support of the Estonian Ministry of Defence (MoD), for whom international collaboration in human factor research is high priority, necessary for enabling effective and innovative evidence-based policies and strategies in managing human resources in the defence sector.

On June 17, the ICDS hosted a seminar “Preventing Military Suicides: International Experience and Best Practice”. Speakers from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, the United Kingdom and the United States shared the latest research data and knowledge about military suicide prevention policies, practices and challenges in their defence organisations. The seminar was conducted with the support of the Estonian Ministry of Defence (MoD), for whom international collaboration in human factor research is high priority, necessary for enabling effective and innovative evidence-based policies and strategies in managing human resources in the defence sector.

17.06.2013
On June 17, the ICDS hosted a seminar “Preventing Military Suicides: International Experience and Best Practice”. Speakers from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, the United Kingdom and the United States shared the latest research data and knowledge about military suicide prevention policies, practices and challenges in their defence organisations. The seminar was conducted with the support of the Estonian Ministry of Defence (MoD), for whom international collaboration in human factor research is high priority, necessary for enabling effective and innovative evidence-based policies and strategies in managing human resources in the defence sector.
Suicides and suicide-related behaviours by serving members of the armed forces, reservists, veterans or conscripts usually pose a very sensitive public relations issue for defence organisations, which are supposed to screen and monitor the mental health of their personnel and to exercise a proper duty of care. Combined with a rise in the number of military suicides and suicide attempts in various countries, this has prompted defence leaders to seek research-based answers to the questions of what the risk factors behind military suicides are and how they could be best mitigated. In 2011, the NATO Science and Technology Organisation’s (STO) Human Factors and Medicine (HFM) Panel launched a Research Task Group (RTG-218) with the participation of 19 countries (including Estonia) to address this challenge by means of research and knowledge-sharing.  As the group was holding one of its regular meetings in Tallinn, the ICDS and the MoD took the opportunity to invite its members to present their latest findings to an Estonian audience. The event was well attended by military psychologists, military doctors, social and health care experts, researchers and defence research co-ordinators from Estonia, Lithuania and Sweden.
Research efforts to support the crafting of organisational strategies for military suicide prevention are undertaken more and more systematically across the Alliance, but there are still many uncertainties and gaps that need to be addressed. The phenomenon of military suicide is extremely complex, which makes it difficult to understand and manage it or to isolate its single most important cause. However, at least to a certain extent the seminar refuted some long-established perceptions that military personnel on operational deployments or service members who experience such problems as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are necessarily at a higher risk of committing or attempting suicide, even though stress and negative experiences associated with deployments (e.g. witnessing deaths of comrades or atrocities against civilians) do play a role. More attention has to be paid to such factors as problems in personal relationships, financial difficulties, legal or administrative trouble at work, past mental health issues (including in the immediate family), alcohol abuse, disrespect or lack of support by the general public and difficulties with integrating into civilian life.
Defence organisations, admittedly, can only have a limited degree of impact on preventing military suicides. However, there is a set of best practices that help mitigate various risk factors and send a re-assuring message to members of the armed forces, their families and the general public. These include better screening and monitoring of mental health; improving access to mental health care; removing the barriers to and the stigma of seeking help; improving personnel training and education in managing your own mental well-being and in monitoring that of your peers; providing support to the families of deployed servicemen and servicewomen as well as to military veterans; and, most importantly, exercising robust leadership at all levels of command to foster esprit de corps and the organisational culture of mutual support, openness, communication, care and resilience.
The presentations made available by the speakers can be downloaded here: Preventing Military Suicides_USA_Gregory Gahm-Marjan Holloway.pdfPreventing Military Suicides_Canada_Kenneth Cooper.pdfMilitary Suicides Prevention_Latvia_Maris Taube.pdfMilitary Suicides Prevention_Denmark_Lillian Zoellner.pdf

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