Washington, DC — As part of a combined effort to lower suicide rates, which rose to the highest level ever recorded last year, the Army launched a Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program designed to improve soldiers' emotional and psychological fitness levels.

The program is being incorporated into all of the Army's training schools, and officials say they will evaluate comprehensive fitness as aggressively as they do physical fitness.

“It's a preventative measure to not get people surviving, but thriving,” Army Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum said recently on Pentagon Web Radio. “The idea is to make them more emotionally and psychologically fit.”

In 2008, the Army reported 143 soldier suicides, the highest rate since it began tracking the incidences in 1980. Fifty-six reported suicides occurred in the first quarter of 2009 alone.

Multiple deployments and relationship failures probably are contributing to the additional stress that soldiers face, Cornum told an online news source.

The new wellness program will encompass mental, emotional, spiritual, family strength and fitness aspects.

“We recognize now that those other domains are equally important, particularly in this time when the Army really is under a lot of stress,” Cornum said.

Soldiers will be assessed in each of the five focus areas, and those with mid-level scores may undergo education or training, while soldiers who receive low scores may receive a therapeutic regiment, she said.

The Army also mandated a suicide prevention training program and is offering a Strong Bonds marriage enrichment retreat to help soldiers strengthen their relationships with their families.