Everyday in the news reports are released or new studies are announced concerning suicide. For example see: Army Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention Report, Army Suicide Study Kicks into Gear By Thomas R. Insel, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (Army STARRS): A Partnership Between NIMH and the U.S. Army
What is the Army STARRS study? – “An epidemiologic study of mental health, psychological resilience, suicide risk, suicide-related behaviours, and suicide deaths in the U.S. Army.”
They inform us that suicide is a preventable public health problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2006 report over 33,000 suicides in the United States, making suicide the 11th leading cause of death for all ages.
The STARRS study is expected to last at least five years. By the end of the 5th year approximately 160,000 men and women will become the victims of suicide. Thats more than the number of service men and women currently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What will this study achieve after 5 years of epidemiologic data collection? The scientists involved state: “Collection of detailed epidemiologic data from a target population will make it possible to identify those at risk and to design prevention approaches that are effective and practical in a military context. It is also expected that the knowledge also will benefit many in civilian settings.”
Meanwhile what shall we do with the loss of over a hundred and fifty thousand citizens? Can we satisfy the general public with the promise to study how and what influences suicide or should we develop a clearer vision for psychological health which includes the suicide issue among many?
A good example is in how we approach physical health problems. Can we effectively deal with physical health problems today without numerous automated tests administered by technicians and sent to doctors in easy to interpret form? The answer is obvious – NO, we cannot. How many more people should die? How much longer must we wait? How many more studies must be financed before an obvious insight in developing automated tests for psychological health issues will become mainstream ideology?
Don’t we do a physical check up once a year, when a doctor does a number of tests in spite of the fact that one might have no specific complaints? On the other hand, many physical illnesses have easily recognisable symptoms: headache, abdominal pain, coughing, sneezing etc. therefore we know when we need a doctor’s help. For “silent” illnesses we have developed a schedule for preventative testing: breast, prostate, rectal cancers etc.
We have no difficulties in converting epidemiologic, psychological health data into statistics like approx. 33,000 suicides in the United States are expected every year or one out of every 5 people will have during his or her life a psychological illness etc. Meanwhile, how will people at large, including those who will perish from suicide, benefit directly from knowledge/body of data?
How do we treat the psychological health issues/problems of the general population at large? We have psychologists and psychiatrists. Do we know when we need one? Can we easily recognize that we need psychological help or when? The answer is sadly, No. We go for a number of years to a general practitioner with our complaints or just keep them to ourselves until our general practitioner suggests we may need psychological or psychiatric help. By this time, we may have a full-blown illness. Do we undergo yearly checkups? Do psychologists and psychiatrists have the means to do yearly checkups? The answer is again, No. Psychologists and psychiatrists have tests that require expert administration and understanding of these tests, of which some doctors do, and some don’t.
What must we do to streamline consistent psychological health? We must develop standardized, automated psychological testing that recognises both psychological well being and deviations from a healthy state. The technician run tests would also provide results in an easy to interpret form to physicians. We must develop tests that ensure the effectiveness of psychological treatment.
Northam Psychotechnologies is at the forefront developing standardized tests administered by technicians with easy to interpret forms for physicians. Such tests include SMART and PsyExeprt tests that cover a wide variety of psychological issues: suicide, drug addiction, phobias, PTSD, and the list goes on. Please see our Technologies page for more details.
Establishment of Psychological Testing and Teaching Centers (PTTC) is the best answer to managing the mental health and wellness of the general public. As a society, we must invest more in front-end psychological health services aimed at reducing the demand for psychological illness care services at the back end. As the first line of contact, primary psychological care units with the testing expertise and coordinating capacity to refer individuals quickly and effectively should be the central focus of the psychological health care system, rather than a general practitioner or acute care hospitals.
There is so much that has been said about the stigma of military personnel or civilians as subjects of psychological treatment or even evaluation. Wouldn’t the stigma completely disappear if a psychological yearly check up became mandatory in the military as well as during annual physical check ups voluntarily in the general public?