New Directive Establishes Military-wide Standard on Suicide Prevention and Behavioral Healthcare

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By Debbie Gregory.

In June, 2013, the Defense Department issued a new directive that provides instruction for addressing suicide prevention, which encompasses the entire military community. This is the first time that such a policy was generated that applied to all service branches.

The new Defense Department Directive 6490.14 establishes policy intended to take substantial efforts to reduce suicide. The directive requires all military branches to create and maintain command climates that increase behavioral health awareness, thus encouraging service members to seek help when facing mental health concerns. Part of this entails removing the stigma for those who seek mental and behavioral healthcare by protecting the privacy of patients.

The new directive takes a holistic approach to wellbeing, promoting the total fitness of service members. No longer will just the physical fitness of their service members be the sole focus of military branches. Now, the physical, environmental, medical, spiritual, nutritional, psychological, behavioral, and social heath of military members are to be equally conditioned and nurtured.

The military will also provide continuous access to quality behavioral health care and other supportive services, including crisis services, to strengthen resilience and readiness. The military will take the necessary steps to identify members who are at risk of suicide.

The directive states that the military will evaluate the effectiveness of the suicide prevention, resilience and preventative behavioral health programs, and provide robust training standards on suicide prevention.

Directive 6490.14 also has provisions which establish that the Suicide Prevention General Officer Steering Committee (SPGOSC) and the Suicide Prevention and Risk Reduction Committee (SPARRC) will fall under the authority of DoD Instruction 5105.18.

Hopefully, with this new directive in place, the US military will see a turnaround in the number of suicides by its members. In 2012, 349 service members took their own lives, including 182 active duty Army, 60 active duty Navy, 59 active duty Air Force, and 48 Marines.