The Military Suicide Research Consortium Studies the Full Spectrum of Suicide in the Military

By Peter M. Gutierrez, Ph.D., and Thomas Joiner, Ph.D.
September 3, 2019

The Military Suicide Research Consortium (MSRC) was stood up in 2010 with significant funding from the Department of Defense (DoD) as an effort to tackle the entire range of the suicide problem for the U.S. military. In its first five years this involved creating the infrastructure to adequately support a broad range of research efforts, soliciting and reviewing research proposals, providing funding to conduct the work, and ensuring that projects were successfully completed. Results from over 20 studies run by MSRC during those years have been used to make recommendations to DoD on a wide range of topics, from improving the assessment of service members at risk for suicide to better ways to respond to suicides that occur within military units. These studies included over 8,500 service members as well as veterans and a small number of civilians.

Among the many advantages of a research consortium is the ability to combine information gathered across research projects. To that end, MSRC requires all funded studies to administer a set of suicide-specific questions called the common data elements (CDEs) in addition to measures necessary to test the hypotheses of each individual study. Multiple projects have been completed using the CDEs, which serves to magnify the positive impact of the individual study findings. Access to data associated with the CDEs is granted to all qualified researchers interested in exploring questions about military suicide.

Based in large part on the successes during the first five years of MSRC, the project was awarded additional funding in 2016 to expand its research efforts and to continue funding studies through 2021. During its second five years of operations, MSRC has increased its focus on suicide-specific interventions (e.g., psychotherapy approaches to reducing suicide risk), the use of technology (e.g., websites, smart phones) in suicide prevention, and long-term follow-up of studies conducted during its first five years. MSRC has been very responsive to input from DoD regarding research priorities, new areas of concern, and ways that research results can be better translated into tools the department can use quickly to address the problem of suicide.

The staff of MSRC are based at three sites across the U.S.: Florida State University, the Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the University of Washington. In addition to conducting a large number of research projects supported by MSRC, staff members at these sites are actively involved in training new military suicide researchers. The training is conducted through a combination of financial support and mentoring of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, an annual research training day held during the American Association of Suicidology conference, and supporting dissertation research via small stipends. Through these efforts, over 150 trainees have been exposed to cutting-edge information about how to effectively study suicide in the U.S. military. Many former trainees are now independent researchers within the military and at research universities across the country.

Finally, in order to support a small number of additional studies which are currently being reviewed for final funding decisions, MSRC was granted an extension (with no additional cost to the DoD) to continue its work through March 2022. The studies funded in this final segment of the second five years of MSRC examine topics that have recently been identified as top priorities by DoD. These studies have the potential to deliver findings on which action can be taken quickly to improve suicide prevention efforts for our military population.

More information about MSRC and resources for clinicians, researchers, and the general public can be found on our website.

Dr. Gutierrez is a clinical/research psychologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center in Aurora, Colorado and professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Dr. Joiner is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. They co-direct the MSRC and are both distinguished suicide researchers with over twenty years of experience in the field.


The views expressed in Clinician's Corner blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Psychological Health Center of Excellence or Department of Defense.


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