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HSR&D In Progress

September 2023

In This Issue: HSR&D Research on Suicide Prevention

»Table of Contents

Enhancing Social Connectedness Among Veterans at High Risk for Suicide through Community Engagement

Feature Article

Takeaway: Suicide rates among Veterans remain stubbornly high. To combat the social isolation that has been associated with suicidal thoughts, 5 this study aims to develop an intervention that improves Veterans’ social connectedness by increasing their participation in community activities—a promising approach to suicide prevention that has not previously been studied.

Although multiple national efforts address Veteran suicide, suicide rates among Veterans remain high. Social connectedness, which has been identified as a strong protective factor against suicide, is a promising area for intervention, but currently, few interventions directly target social connectedness among at-risk individuals. To improve Veterans’ social connectedness through participation in community activities, this ongoing study (July 2019–June 2024) aims to:

  • Identify Veterans’ current behaviors, needs, and preferences for community engagement following psychiatric hospitalization.
  • Identify VA staff and community stakeholder perceptions and perceived needs related to Veteran community engagement following psychiatric hospitalization.
  • Develop and pilot a multicomponent, peer-supported intervention for increasing social connectedness among Veterans at elevated risk of suicide.


The multicomponent intervention will be informed by input from Veterans as well as VA clinical and community stakeholders such as nonprofit organizations and family members.

Early Findings and Progress

  • Veterans reported a need for more centralized, accessible, and active support for engaging in community activities following psychiatric hospitalization.
  • Similarly, a community organization director explained, “It’s this idea of a web, or a net, so that when a Veteran gets out, they’re not just floating out there in the world by themselves, but there’s a warm hand-off to resources.”
  • Veterans described barriers related to limited past social connections. One Veteran described having no past community experiences, adding, “I’ve never had a sense of belonging anywhere. I don’t know why, but I never have.”
  • An initial intervention manual has been drafted based on Veteran, VA, and community stakeholder feedback. Further adaptation is underway to account for changes in community and healthcare system capacity.

Anticipated Impact

Findings are expected to include clinical toolkits and briefings for VA and community stakeholders and will be communicated through academic manuscripts and community and research presentations.

Principal Investigator

Jason Chen, PhDJason Chen, PhD, is an HSR&D Career Development Awardee and is part of HSR&D’s Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care in Portland, OR.

Recent related publications by this investigator

Chen JI, Ono SS, Dobscha SK, et al. Veteran community engagement and social connection needs following inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal. December 2022;45(4):324–330. Also see the accompanying clinical brief.

Bowersox NW, Jagusch J, Chen JI, et al. Peer-based interventions targeting suicide prevention: A scoping review. American Journal of Community Psychology. September 2021;68(1–2):232–248.

View the study abstract.

5 Social isolation and suicide risk: Literature review and perspectives - PMC (

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