WASHINGTON: A troubling mental health trend among members of the Armed Forces has pushed the National Guard to begin work on a suicide prevention campaign.
In July, there were 38 suspected suicides by reserve and active duty service members, up from 32 in July 2011, according to the Department of Defense. In 2012 to date, there have been 187 suspected suicides among the two groups, compared with 278 possible suicides in 2011.
The campaign will target more 360,000 US Army National Guard soldiers, commanders, and families across the country.
“A challenge of the campaign will be effectively disseminating campaign messages and materials to reach the widely dispersed soldier and soldier family population,” said Rose Richardson, a public affairs specialist at the National Guard Bureau.
To reach this dispersed population, the campaign will take a targeted approach, using military and mass media channels, social media, partnerships, and grassroots outreach, she added.
The National Guard awarded consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton a five-year contract to work on the effort. The company's strategic communications division will lead work on the account without a PR subcontractor. The budget for the first year is $2.3 million.
The initial year of the effort will be largely used to determine how to develop campaign components. Once the research phase is complete, the National Guard will develop a US media strategy, Richardson said.
“This is an extremely serious topic and high priority for the Department of Defense, Army Reserve, and National Guard,” said Grant McLaughlin, VP at Booz Allen Hamilton. “It's a privilege to work on such a high-level initiative.”
The campaign would include mat releases and targeted B-roll packages for national, regional, and local outlets. It will also likely secure donated media in military publications, military behavioral health and medical resources, magazines, and journals, as well as on closed-circuit TV and websites.
The effort will engage soldiers, commanders, and families through conferences and events and by developing a partnership program and targeted outreach campaigns. It will also incorporate new media components such as a mobile site, mobile applications, and social media.
In addition to suicide, the campaign is also expected to address general health and well being, injury prevention, and risk reduction. The National Guard has found that a “truly fit soldier” is strong across five dimensions of health: physical, emotional, social, family, and spiritual.
“Stress and associated symptoms can increase the chances of injury, obesity, diminished job performance, alcohol and substance misuse, and behavioral health concerns, which all affect mission readiness and overall soldier health,” Richardson said.
On a related note, the National Guard has yet to announce a winner of a $477 million marketing and PR contract advertised last year. However, a decision is expected soon, Richardson said.