U.S. soldiers have committed suicide at a higher-than-usual rate during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the Army must do more to try to prevent suicide and lessen combat-related stress, a new Army study says.
The study, the first of its kind undertaken in a war zone, was conducted from August through October to address the mental health of soldiers in Iraq. It was prompted by a spike of suicides in July, when five soldiers killed themselves, all with few warning signs.
Since the war in Iraq began in March 2003, 24 soldiers have committed suicide, an average of about two per month. The suicide rate for Army soldiers in Iraq in 2003 was 15.8 per 100,000, an increase from the Army average of 12.2 for 2003 and 11.9 from 1995-2002. That rate was still below the national average of 21.5 suicides per 100,000 for males ages 20-34, which roughly matches the age range of the bulk of the soldiers in Iraq.
USA TODAY obtained a draft of the study, which involved only Army soldiers and did not cover Marines, Air Force or Navy personnel in Iraq.
Among the findings:
• Friends and colleagues had little or no inkling that comrades who killed themselves were contemplating suicide. The Army plans to address the problem by adding “buddy team” training to spot warning signs and by changing Army culture to remove the stigma associated with counseling.
• The Army needs to field mental health teams closer to combat units in wartime. Surveys show that many soldiers who experienced anxiety did not know how or where to seek assistance.
• More than 60% of soldiers in Iraq reported “low morale.” Army officials say the situation has improved because of better facilities in Iraq and a rotation plan that removes uncertainties about return dates.