2016 Tillman Scholar

Andrea Wolfe-Clark

Air Force
University of Utah
Ph.D., Clinical Psychology

“Over the past decade we’ve increased mental health awareness, but we also need to look beyond the individual, at the systems, policies, and leadership cultures that influence wellness.”

Andrea has always lived by the leadership mantra, “If I don’t care for my troops, who will? ” During her deployment overseas as a behavioral scientist, she was often reminded of the importance of investing in others and breaking down communication barriers. Today, as she pursues her Ph.D. at a civilian university, she sees the communication gap her classmates have when treating service members. For her personally, she is dedicated to not just becoming a clinician, but using her own military experience to understand and connect with active-duty service members in order to help them overcome their struggles.

By interacting with her clinical training and military experience, she hopes to provide effective psychotherapy while working with policymakers to create, disseminate, and assess empirically supported training to improve mental health. Informed by her own research and observations, she believes the Department of Defense mental health policy can integrate new findings and be improved. Over 1,660 active duty, reserve, and guard members have died by suicide since 2012, making suicide prevention a DoD priority. Despite funding for 900 suicide prevention programs, however, rates continue to rise and suicide is currently the second leading cause of death in the military with more military personnel dying by suicide than combat-related causes.

To develop empirically supported treatment and prevention for suicide, Andrea believes we first have to understand them. Currently, her Ph.D. dissertation aims to understand how risk and protective factors change over time to predict when and for whom suicide risk is high. She wants to serve as a consultant for decision-makers to tailor suicide prevention programs based on research relevant to military members, track the effectiveness of suicide prevention and treatment programs, and modify policies limiting duty for individuals with a history of thoughts of suicide. In her view, maximizing mission success and increasing individual morale should never be conflicting goals.