Wingman-Connect Program increases social integration for Air Force personnel at elevated suicide risk: Social network analysis of a cluster RCT

Peter A. Wyman*, Trevor A. Pickering, Anthony R. Pisani, Ian Cero, Bryan Yates, Karen Schmeelk-Cone, C. Hendricks Brown, Robert D. Gibbons, Jordan Simonson, Steven E. Pflanz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

U.S. military suicides are increasing and disrupted relationships frequently precede them. Group-level interventions are needed that reduce future suicide vulnerability among healthy members and also ameliorate risk among those already suicidal. We examined whether our Wingman-Connect Program (W-CP) strengthened Air Force relationship networks and socially integrated at-risk members. Air Force personnel classes in training were randomized to W-CP or active control (cluster RCT), followed up at 1 and 6 months (94% and 84% retention). Data were collected in 2017–2019 and analyzed in 2020–2021. Participants were 1485 male and female Airmen in 215 technical training classes. W-CP training involved strengthening group bonds, skills for managing career and personal stressors, and diffusion of healthy norms. Active control was stress management training. Primary outcomes were social network metrics based on Airmen nominations of valued classmates after 1 month. Baseline CAT-SS >34 defined elevated suicide risk. W-CP increased social network integration, with largest impact for Airmen already at elevated suicide risk (n = 114, 7.7%). For elevated risk Airmen, W-CP improved all network integration metrics, including 53% average gain in valued connection nominations received from other Airmen (RR = 1.53, 95% CI = 1.12, 2.08) and eliminated isolation. No elevated risk Airmen in W-CP were isolates with no valued connections after 1-month vs. 10% among controls (P < .035). In contrast to at-risk controls, at-risk W-CP Airmen increased connections after intervention. W-CP's effect on a key indicator, ≥2 connections, was still greater 2–4 months after classes disbanded (6-months). Wingman-Connect Program built enhanced suicide protection into unit relationship networks and counteracted standard drift towards disconnection for at-risk Airmen, despite no explicit content targeting connections specifically to at-risk Airmen. Findings support a growing case for the unique contribution of group-level interventions to improve social health of broader military populations while also ameliorating risk among individuals already at elevated suicide risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114737
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume296
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Keywords

  • Depression
  • Military health
  • Prevention
  • Social networks
  • Suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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