Unique program addresses behavioral and social health issues across the Army

By Chanel S. Weaver, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Army Public Health CommandJuly 29, 2015

Fact Sheet
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Fact Sheet 2
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Today's Soldiers are held to high standards, and expected to display the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

And although military service is still regarded as one of the most highly-respected professions, one should remember that these Soldiers are still human. Many of the issues that Soldiers face are similar to the ones that are encountered by their civilian counterparts.

The Army Institute of Public Health's Behavioral and Social Health Outcomes Program, or BSHOP, recognizes this truth.

BSHOP was created in 2008 in response to Army leader's concerns about suicide, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse and other potentially harmful behavioral health concerns.

The program identifies trends in behavioral or social concerns such as suicide, homicide, sexual assault, domestic violence and other forms of physical aggression, and examines risk factors that may contribute to these behaviors. This surveillance and analysis is reported to Army leaders and used to prioritize actions to mitigate the factors that contribute to negative behaviors with the goal of preventing them or reducing their occurrence.

Based at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., a team of 35 individuals, including epidemiologists, behavioral health clinicians and sociologists work in the program.

"Our program experts identify and assess psychological and social threats to Soldier health and combat readiness, and suggest strategies the Army can use to prevent or reduce these threats," said Dr. Christine Riordan, BSHOP program manager.

One of the unique capabilities that exists within the program is its ability to perform behavioral health epidemiological consultations, or EPICONS. With short notice, experts in this program travel to Army installations or unit locations at the request of commanders to gather data and assess events within a specific community where behavioral health issues occur at unusual levels.

"If there is a cluster of violence, suicides, hospitalizations, deaths or other behavioral or social issues that occur within a unit or installation, our experts can deploy within 48 hours," said Riordan.

For instance, when a mass shooting occurred at Fort Hood in 2014, BSHOP experts led a large-scale public health response screening effort to identify individuals who may be at risk for behavioral health issues, and to refer these individuals for appropriate follow-up and care as needed.

"Nearly 4,000 individuals participated in the screening, and we received positive feedback from the Fort Hood leadership team about the usefulness of the screening," said Riordan.

One of the most popular reports that the BSHOP produces is the Surveillance of Suicidal Behavior (SSBP) report, which is released annually.

The report gives the most up-to-date statistics surrounding Army suicides for a particular year, as well as other related risk factors. The first SSBP was produced in 2012, but BSHOP has been providing an annual suicide surveillance report since 2008.

In addition, BSHOP routinely produces fact sheets for recognizing the signs of suicide and reducing suicides in the ranks.

"Suicides can be prevented by recognizing and acting on signs of suicide risk," said Dr. Kelly Forys-Donahue, a psychologist in the BSHOP.

Another report produced by the BSHOP includes the Behavioral Health Risk Assessment Data Report, which summarizes self-reported behavioral health screening data and characterizes risk for behavioral health outcomes for those Soldiers returning from deployment.

Other reports authored by the BSHOP program include an annual Mortality Report.