Researching the High Suicide Risk in Veterans

Mount Sinai psychiatrists are developing new treatments to address this pressing problem in young men and women returning from service overseas


Marianne Goodman, MD (left) and Antonia S. New, MD, (right)

 

These are startling statistics: Every day, 18 veterans commit suicide, and nearly 20 percent of all suicides in the United States are veterans. At Mount Sinai, Marianne Goodman, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, and Antonia S. New, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry—two leading experts in borderline personality disorder—are conducting cutting-edge research to address this pressing issue in young servicemen and servicewomen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

As part of the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs (JJPVA) Suicide Research Program, Drs. Marianne Goodman and Antonia New are studying the high rate of suicidal behavior in young veterans. They are exploring several factors such as exposure to combat, difficulties with social relationships, and other underlying vulnerabilities that might make them susceptible to emotional difficulties when they return from service.

Both doctors are also testing new psychotherapeutic treatments that may help prevent suicide. Building on the award-winning JJPVA Clinical Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Program, directed by Dr. Marianne Goodman, the researchers are investigating the efficacy of DBT in veterans at high risk for suicide. DBT is a form of psychotherapy that has been shown to reduce suicidal behavior in borderline personality disorder (BPD) but it has not been studied yet in veterans without BPD. Recently, Drs. Marianne Goodman and Antonia New set up the first randomized clinical trial in veterans, which is being funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The JJPVA Suicide Research Program is also involved in developing new forms of psychotherapy that may be used more broadly throughout the Veterans Administration health system to help suicidal veterans. Drs. Marianne Goodman and Antonia New are working with Erin Hazlett, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, to explore potential physiological biomarkers and cognitive measures for vulnerability to suicidal behavior and responsiveness to treatment.