Military Operational Medicine (JPC-5)
Wingman-Connect Program: An Impactful Collaboration between Academia and the Air Force
Posted November 26, 2021
Peter A. Wyman, Ph.D., University of Rochester
For decades, active-duty military suicide rates were lower than those in the general population. Now they are comparable and the increase in numbers has led to the expansion of suicide prevention efforts within the military.1 Relationship disruptions are a major precipitant of suicides. Interventions that strengthen influence of healthy peers have the potential to reduce suicide rates.2
With Defense Medical Research and Development Program funds from a Military Operational Medicine Research Program FY13 Applied Research and Advanced Technology Development Psychological Health Award, Dr. Wyman and his team worked closely with Air Force partners to adapt an existing evidence-based universal suicide prevention program for use with the military. Called “Wingman-Connect,” the intervention trains small units to strengthen cohesion, shared purpose, and collective group skills to manage career and personal challenges. This peer-to-peer approach to create a heathy group culture differs from most current suicide prevention trainings.
Wingman-Connect was pilot-tested and then evaluated with Airmen-in-training at Sheppard Air Force Base to assess its impact on suicidal ideation, depression, and occupational problems. The research team paired similar class units from the same squadron and randomly assigned one class from each pair to Wingman-Connect or a stress management control training. Results showed that Wingman-Connect reduced suicidal ideation severity, depression symptoms, and occupational problems significantly more than the stress management control after one month, and at 6-months, depression symptoms remained significantly lower in the Wingman-Connect group.3 Wingman-Connect also increased strong bonds among classmates, particularly those already at elevated risk of suicide. Wingman-Connect leveraged the influence that personnel have on each other daily. Group training that builds cohesive, healthy units holds promise for upstream suicide prevention within the military.
Further research is needed to test extension into the operational Air Force and impact on preventing suicidal behaviors. Dr. Wyman received follow-on funding from the Military Suicide Research Consortium* to tailor the Wingman-Connect intervention for use in operational settings and evaluate implementation outcomes in continued collaboration with Air Force partners.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line by texting 838255, calling 1-800-273-8255, or starting a confidential chat at MilitaryCrisisLine.net.
*The Military Suicide Research Consortium (MSRC) Research Program runs cutting-edge empirical studies to further the knowledge base on topics such as risk assessment, treatment, and prevention, as they pertain to suicidal behavior in the military. Additional information about the MSRC and its funded studies is available at https://msrc.fsu.edu/.
Wingman-Connect: Overview of
University of Rochester Medical Center
Program and Effectiveness
Public and Technical Abstracts: Peer-Led Suicide Prevention: Promoting Health Family Role Transitions for Military Personnel
Wyman PA, Pisani AR, Brown CH, et al. Effect of the Wingman-Connect Upstream Suicide Prevention Program for Air Force Personnel in Training: A Cluster Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(10):e2022532.
1Pruitt LD, Smolenski DJ, Tucker J, et al. 2018. DoDSER: Department of Defense suicide event report—Calendar Year 2017 Annual Report.
2Lakey B and Cronin A. 2008. Low social support and major depression: Research, theory and methodological issues. Risk Factors in Depression (Dobson KS and Dozois DJA, Eds.). Elsevier Academic Press 385-408.
3Wyman PA, Pisani AR, Brown CH, et al. Effect of the Wingman-Connect Upstream Suicide Prevention Program for Air Force Personnel in Training: A Cluster Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(10):e2022532.
Last updated Thursday, May 26, 2022