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Army asks for more mental health help

WASHINGTON – An Army task force has found that a growing number of soldiers serving in Afghanistan are suffering from some kind of mental stress and is urging the military to double the number of mental health professionals deployed there.

The study, conducted by the Army Mental Health Advisory Team, found that soldiers’ morale in Afghanistan is “significantly lower” than it was in 2005 and 2007 studies, as soldiers face a resurgent Taliban and the highest levels of violence of the war. Junior officers are under greater stress than senior commanders are, the study found.

In 2009, 21.4 percent of the soldiers in Afghanistan were suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, compared with 10.4 percent in 2005. In Iraq, the figure was 13 percent in 2009, the lowest level of that war.

There were seven confirmed suicides in Afghanistan in 2008; as of May 31 of this year, there had been five. According to Army statistics, 133 active-duty soldiers committed suicide from January to October this year.

However, the Army’s effort to get more mental health workers to the front lines is confronting a national shortage of mental health professionals that hasn’t spared the military.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, the Army psychiatrist who’s accused of shooting 55 people at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5, and killing 13 of them, was set to deploy to Afghanistan.

He was one of 121 Army psychiatrists, and the military is investigating whether the shortage of mental health doctors may have prompted officials to keep Hasan in the Army despite some of his colleagues’ concerns about his own condition.

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