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The Department of the Army announced today the results of the Army's Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT). At the request of the commanding general, Combined Joint Task Force-7, U.S. Central Command, the Army surgeon general established and dispatched the Mental Health Advisory Team to assess and provide recommendations on Operation Iraqi Freedom-related mental health services, soldier access to those services in theater and after evacuation, and effective suicide prevention measures for Soldiers in active combat.

The MHAT deployed to Kuwait and Iraq from Aug. 27 through Oct. 7, 2003. From Oct. 12 through 18, the team also assessed mental health services provided to Soldiers evacuated for mental health reasons to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and Soldiers at Fort Stewart, Ga., who had returned from Iraq and Kuwait.

The findings are a snapshot of the morale and mental health of Soldiers during this time period. This is the first time an assessment of this sort has been carried out in a combat environment.

The MHAT study confirmed that the OIF behavioral healthcare system was capable in large part of helping Soldiers deal with the stress of combat. It also found ways to strengthen the system's effectiveness.

The team conducted a soldier well-being survey, which was administered to more than 750 Soldiers as well as unit leaders, behavioral and primary health providers and chaplains. The survey revealed that the most common combat stressors were seeing dead human bodies, being attacked or ambushed, and knowing someone who was seriously injured or killed. The most common operational stressors were uncertain redeployment date, long deployments, being separated from family and lack of privacy.

The survey was taken at a time when conditions in Iraq were extremely stressful, yet 77 percent of Soldiers reported no stress or low stress. In this environment, 16 percent of Soldiers reported moderate stress and seven percent reported severe stress. Soldiers also reported low to very low morale personally (52 percent) and low to very low unit morale (72 percent).

The study also found that while assistance from chaplains and behavioral health providers was available and many Soldiers used that care, there were some barriers to Soldiers' taking advantage of the care. Among the barriers were the danger and resources involved in transporting a soldier to the nearest available counselors, inability to get time off work, and concern among some Soldiers that there is a stigma associated with asking for help.

The MHAT also analyzed soldier suicides in Iraq. The Army has had a very effective suicide prevention program in place for 18 years. However, the strategies of the program were developed for use on Army installations. The MHAT review concluded that the Army should adapt these strategies to the deployed force to improve suicide prevention efforts in combat zones.

Twenty-three OIF suicides occurred in Iraq and Kuwait in 2003, yielding a suicide rate of 17.3 per 100,000. To date, only one suicide has occurred in 2004. During the same time period in 2003, the Army experienced 75 suicides worldwide, including those in Iraq and Kuwait. The total Army rate for calendar year 2003 was 12.8. The overall rate for the Army is consistent with previous years; the rate in Iraq is higher than historic rates for the entire Army but is still lower than the rate for young males in the general U.S. population. The largest demographic group in the Army is young males, and young males are the demographic group most at risk for suicide,

To date, seven Soldiers have committed suicide after returning from Iraq.

Two additional cases in 2003 are still under investigation. If confirmed, they will increase the number of suicides.

The Army is working hard to further improve behavioral health care and suicide prevention for Soldiers deployed to Iraq and Army-wide. We realize that we may not be able to prevent every suicide, but we continue to look for ways to minimize the risk of suicide in Soldiers.

Another MHAT is scheduled to go to Iraq and Kuwait in the summer to conduct a second comparative assessment of the behavioral health system and issues associated with behavioral health.

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For more information, news media may contact Army Public Affairs at (703) 692-2000. The complete MHAT report may be found at www.armymedicine.army.mil.


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