Despite the enrichment of VA suicide prevention services and implementation of the national suicide hotline, Veteran suicide completions have risen to 22 per day and suicide attempts numbered over 15,000 in 2012. These data underscore the urgency of developing additional interventions targeting suicidal Veterans. One potential avenue to further suicide treatment and rehabilitation efforts is to develop strategies that maximize family support, however almost no family interventions exist for suicidal Veterans. The construction of a Suicide Safety Plan (SSP); a ?best practice,? is mandated throughout the VA system, and a vital component of the VA?s coordinated effort at suicide prevention and recovery. Our pilot data on patterns of SSP use in suicidal Veterans highlighted the importance of sharing the plan with family or close friends. However, respondents also noted significant obstacles in their ability to reach out to others when in distress. To our knowledge, there are currently no recommended guidelines or mechanisms for involving family in safety planning, despite its inclusion as a step of the plan. ?Safe Actions for Families to Encourage Recovery? (SAFER) a novel suicide safety planning family intervention has been designed to fill this critical gap and provide a mechanism to communicate about safety planning. SAFER, a 4-session, family intervention, combines education about suicide and suicide safety planning with communication skills training from evidence-based practices.
The aim i s to facilitate communication about suicide safety planning and to develop both a Veteran and family member safety plan. Data from this project will test the intervention?s feasibility, acceptability and preliminary efficacy in a Stage II (Rounsaville et al, 2001) small-scale randomized clinical trial in 60 moderate suicide risk Veterans and their family members. The comparison condition will be safety planning without family involvement plus weekly check-in phone calls. Primary Veteran outcomes include reducing suicidal ideation/behavior. Secondary Veteran outcomes include reducing suicidal cognitions (hopelessness, perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness) and depression and improving subjective social support. Family member primary outcomes include reducing caregiver burden and secondary outcomes of improving suicide-related coping and family empowerment.

Public Health Relevance

The management of suicide risk is a pressing national public health issue especially among Veterans, and there exist no guidelines of how best to involve family members in this effort. This proposal will integrate family and couples communication skills training with suicide safety planning. The goal is for the sharing of Veteran suicide safety plans with family members and the construction of a parallel family member safety plan, in efforts to mobilize and support family involvement.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Veterans Affairs (VA)
Non-HHS Research Projects (I01)
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Psychological Health & Social Reintegration (RRD4)
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James J Peters VA Medical Center
Independent Hospitals
United States
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