The Secretary of the U.S. Army issued two directives in late 2017 to directly combat the problem of suicide in the U.S. Army. The first was to develop an Army tool to assist commanders and first-line leaders in preventing suicide and improving behavioral health (BH) outcomes, which has been previously published as the BH Readiness and Risk Reduction Review (R4). The second was to conduct an evaluation study of the tool with Army units in the field. This study is the first to empirically examine the Army’s tool-based methods for identifying and caring for the health and welfare of soldiers at risk for suicide, and this article outlines the methodology employed to study the effectiveness of the R4 tools and accomplish the Secretary’s second directive.
The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research Institutional Review Board approved the R4 study. The study employed a repeated measurements in pre/post quasi-experimental design, including a nonequivalent but comparable business-as-usual control group. The R4 intervention consisted of the R4 tools, accompanying instructions, and an orientation. Samples were drawn from two geographically separated U.S. Army divisions in the continental United States, each composed of four comparable brigades. Study implementation consisted of three phases and three data collections over the course of 12 months. Soldiers completed anonymous survey instruments to assess a range of health factors, behaviors, characteristics, tool-related decision-making processes, and the frequency, type, and quality of interactions between soldiers and leaders.
The R4 study commenced on May 6, 2019, and concluded on June 4, 2020. Sample size goals were achieved for both the divisions at all three data collection time points.
The methodology of the R4 study is critical for the U.S. Army from both a precedential and an outcome-based standpoint. Despite the use of many previous tools and programs for suicide prevention, this is the first time the Army has been able to empirically test the effectiveness of tool-supported decision-making among Army units in a rigorous fashion. The methodology of such a test is a critical marker for future interventional inquiries on the subject of suicide in the Army, and the results will allow for more informed decision-making by leaders when approaching these ongoing challenges.