Preventing Veteran Suicides With A Note On An Index Card

Feb 6, 2017

New research from the National Center for Veterans Studies has put strong data behind a remarkably simple approach to suicide prevention among veterans. 

Craig Bryan is a professor and clinical psychologist at the University of Utah. For the past several years he’s been studying how effective it is for veterans struggling with suicide to deal with their challenges in a remarkably simple way: writing down a plan for moments of crisis on a 3 X 5 index card to carry with them.

It may sound too good to be true, but Bryan says, "we were quite shocked at how remarkably effective this thirty minute intervention really was."

The strategy is known as a "crisis response plan." It’s not new to psychiatry but it hadn’t been used before in the context of helping veterans in crisis. By adapting it to a military setting Bryan’s research showed that if a veteran wrote a crisis response plan they were 75 percent less likely to attempt suicide over the next six months and they were less likely to be hospitalized in that time.

Bryan says, often individuals he works with forget how to cope in a moment of crisis.

"This very simple tool is really just designed for: hey if you can’t remember what to do, do this! And just follow your own instructions."

This approach differs from a more common one, known as a “contract for safety.” Bryan says its asks veterans to promise they’ll stay safe if they’re released from the doctor after a crisis.

"So in essence, we come up with the brief written plan of what to do during a crisis, as opposed to asking the suicidal individual what not to do during the crisis," Bryan says. 

Bryan has plans to deliver this suicide intervention training to officials with the State of Utah, the local VA medical center and other groups around the state.