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PPO 20-166 – HSR Study

PPO 20-166
Increasing Help-Seeking Behavior Among Transitioning Veterans at Risk for Suicide with Online Gatekeeper Training: A Pilot Study of PsychArmor S.A.V.E.
Alan R. Teo, MD MS
VA Portland Health Care System, Portland, OR
Portland, OR
Funding Period: October 2020 - March 2022


Background: Suicide is an urgent public health crisis, and transitioning Veterans (those who have recently separated from the military) are a high-risk group for suicide. A key component to advancing suicide prevention efforts among at-risk Veterans is to address low levels of help-seeking and engagement in treatment, including Veterans Health Administration (VHA) care. Veterans are most likely to disclose suicidal thoughts to their close supports—family members, friends, and their peers. However, Veterans and their close supports rarely receive training in how to help a peer at risk of suicide, despite strong interest in such training. Gatekeeper training is a key strategy with potential to help address these challenges. Gatekeeper training teaches “gatekeepers” skills in how to identify a Veteran with suicide risk, inquire about suicidal thoughts, and help make a connection to professional treatment; it may benefit the trainee’s own mental health too. PsychArmor S.A.V.E. is a brief, novel online gatekeeper training that was created in partnership with VA and is designed for Veterans and their close supports. Significance/Impact: This project focuses on VA’s topic clinical priority, suicide prevention. The 2019 VA and Department of Defense Clinical Practice Guidelines also identified gatekeeper training as an important research gap and priority for future research. Finally, our research design addresses three separate goals and objectives contained in VA’s National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, including involvement of Veterans’ close supports. Innovation: This proposal employs the novel approach of recruiting Veterans and their close supports through online social media advertisements, allowing for broad outreach, suicide prevention targeting Veterans outside the VA network, and the potential to test the effectiveness of gatekeeper training on a large scale. Online gatekeeper trainings are highly scalable public health strategies with the potential to diffuse through online social networks. Specific Aims: Our primary objective is to conduct a pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of the online gatekeeper training PsychArmor S.A.V.E. To reach this objective we will achieve these aims: 1) Determine the feasibility of recruiting participants via social media, engaging them to participate in an online gatekeeper training program, and retaining them in an online intervention study; and 2) Determine the acceptability of PsychArmor S.A.V.E. in a pilot RCT, and evaluate measures for use in a future larger-scale RCT. Methodology: This is a two-arm pilot randomized clinical trial involving 200 participants. We will recruit participants through social media advertisements targeting transitioning Veterans and their close supports (family and friends). Participants will be randomized to take the PsychArmor S.A.V.E. gatekeeper training or a “sham” control training and followed for 6 months. Mixed quantitative and qualitative methods will be used to assess outcomes on feasibility and acceptability. Additional data collection and analysis of measures related to suicide prevention, such as gatekeeper behaviors, knowledge, stigma, self-efficacy, and social norms measures will help prepare for a larger-scale RCT. Implementation/Next Steps: By using an extremely scalable intervention and building off existing VA practices and partnerships, this project will be very well-positioned for further evaluation and implementation into VA practice if found to be effective. It is freely available online, making it highly amenable to being rapidly taken to scale. Results of this project will inform future efforts to disseminate and/or revise PsychArmor S.A.V.E.

External Links for this Project

NIH Reporter

Grant Number: I21HX003259-01

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Journal Articles

  1. Teo AR, Call AA, Hooker ER, Fong C, Karras E, Dobscha SK. Feasibility of recruitment and retention in a remote trial of gatekeeper training for close supports of military veterans: Mixed methods study. Contemporary clinical trials communications. 2022 Dec 1; 30:100993. [view]

DRA: Mental, Cognitive and Behavioral Disorders
DRE: Treatment - Implementation, TRL - Applied/Translational
Keywords: Suicide
MeSH Terms: None at this time.

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