WASHINGTON – Morale among U.S. soldiers in Iraq has improved since the start of the war in 2003, and the soldiers’ suicide rate dropped by more than half last year, according to an Army mental health survey released Wednesday.
The Army’s second Mental Health Advisory Team report paints an improving picture of how soldiers are handling their tours and how medical personnel are dealing with mental health problems. The team surveyed more than 2,000 soldiers from last August to October and concluded that aggressive efforts to improve mental health care and to make soldiers aware of the stresses of combat have succeeded.
A majority of soldiers fighting in Iraq, however, reported that morale is still a problem, with 54 percent saying that their unit morale is “low” or “very low,” and 9 percent reporting “high” or “very high” morale. During the first survey in late summer 2003, 72 percent of soldiers reported low morale.
The survey also reported that when soldiers were asked about their own morale – as distinct from their unit’s morale – there was marked improvement from 2003 to 2004: 52 percent described their morale as low or very low in the first survey, and that number dropped to 36 percent in 2004.
“There have been substantial improvements made in the quality of life in theater, particularly access to air conditioned sleeping quarters, better facilities … better food and (dining facilities), and improved communication home through telephone and e-mail,” according to the report, dated Jan. 30, 2005. “These likely help buffer the negative effects of combat.”