American soldiers' suicide rate in Iraq unusually high
- First an announcement. The Free Arab Voice, after an hiatus of several
months, is once again publishing reports of the activities of the Iraqi
resistance. The website address is www.freearabvoice.org
The following article, attributed to Greg Zoroya of USA Today, appeared on
page A14 of the Monday, October 13, 2003 edition of the Arizona Republic.
It should be noted that in addition to these "official" suicides among
American soldiers in Iraq, there have been many deaths classified as resulting
from "non-hostile gunshot wounds". This would seem to imply either confused
soldiers shooting each other or accidental discharge of firearms, but many
of these may also be suicides. In all fairness to the Pentagon (not that
they deserve any fairness), it is sometimes difficult to tell if a self-
inflicted gunshot wound was accidental or a suicide. Ernest Hemmingway's
death was ruled accidental, but many have speculated that he may have shot
ARMY INVESTIGATING CONDITIONS IN IRAQ AFTER 11 GI SUICIDES
Alarmed by the number of suicides among soldiers in Iraq, the Army has asked
a team of doctors to determine if the stress of combat and long deployments
is a contributing factor.
"The number of suicides has caused the Army to be concerned," said Lieutenant
Colonel Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a psychiatrist at the Army's Uniformed
Services University in Bethesda, Maryland, who is helping to investigate the
suicides in Iraq.
"Is there something different going on in Iraq that we really need to pay
In the past seven months, at least eleven soldiers and three Marines have
committed suicide in Iraq, military officials say. That is an annual rate
of 17 per 100,000. The Navy also is investigating one possible suicide.
And about a dozen Army deaths are under investigation and could include
The numbers suggest the rate in Iraq is above normal. Last year, the
military services reported between eight and nine suicides per 100,000
people. Ther Army rate is usually higher, between 10 and 13 per 100,000,
which mirrors the public rate for the same age group.
Army officials caution against drawing general conclusions based on small
changes. But they sent a mental health team to Iraq last month to look into
a variety of issues, including suicides and treatment available for
soldiers suffering from depression. The team consists of psychologists,
psychiatrists, social workers and the manager of the Army's suicide
prevention program. The team has surveyed 700 soldiers and conducted
focus-group discussions with GIs.
"They are ... looking at the stresses on the troops, how well the troops
are coping and how well the basic principles of battlefield psychiatry
are working," Ritchie said.
Most of the suicides have occurred since May 1, after major combat operations
Experts say harsh and dangerous living conditions combined with a long
deployment can worsen depression.
The accessibility of weapons in a war zone can quickly turn a passing
thought into action.
"It just takes a second to pull it out and put it to your head and pull
the trigger," Ritchie said.
The Army has sent home 478 soldiers from Iraq for mental health issues.
Officials say that in previous wars, many of those cases would be treated in
the war zone. The Army does not have enough mental health resources in
Iraq to treat many of the cases.
In 2001, the Army responded to a 26 percent increase in active-duty
suicides between 1997 and 1999 by implementing a suicide prevention program.