The Department of Defense today released key findings from the latest Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT-IV) survey, the fourth in a series of studies since 2003 to assess the mental health and well-being of the deployed forces serving in Iraq.
The MHAT-IV, conducted in August and October of last year, assessed more than 1,300 soldiers and for the first time nearly 450 Marines. The commanding general of Multinational Force, Iraq, also requested a first-ever study of battlefield ethics with the participation of soldiers and Marines currently involved in combat operations. Survey participants were not selected to be representative of the entire deployed force. Units were specifically targeted for this survey because they experienced the highest level of combat exposure. If a representative sample of the total deployed force had been selected, the findings would have likely been very different.
The significant findings include:
- Soldiers who deployed longer (greater than six months) or had deployed multiple times were more likely to screen positive for a mental health issue.
- Approximately 10 percent of soldiers reported mistreating non-combatants or damaging their property when it was not necessary.
- Less than half of soldiers and Marines would report a team member for unethical behavior.
- More than one-third of all soldiers and Marines reported that torture should be allowed to save the life of a fellow soldier or Marine.
- The 2006 adjusted rate of suicides per 100,000 soldiers was 17.3 soldiers, lower than the 19.9 rate reported in 2005, however higher than the Army average of 11.6 per 100,000 soldiers. However, there are important demographic differences between these two soldier populations that make direct comparisons problematic.
- Soldiers experienced mental health problems at a higher rate than Marines.
- Deployment length was directly linked to morale problems in the Army.
- Leadership is key to maintaining soldier and Marine mental health.
- Both soldiers and Marines reported at relatively high rates – 62 and 66 percent, respectively – that they knew someone seriously injured or killed, or that a member of their team had become a casualty.
Implementation of recommendations and remedies to support soldiers and Marines has already begun. The Army has addressed the MHAT-IV findings with:
- Scenario-based battlefield ethics training.
- Revised suicide prevention training.
- Behavioral health awareness training in junior leader development courses.
- Small-group BATTLEMIND training during both pre- and post-deployment.
- Offer BATTLEMIND training to spouses at pre- and post-deployment sessions.
- BATTLEMIND training for Warriors in Transition.
A new Army Web site, http://www.behavioralhealth.army.mil , includes instructional materials required to conduct BATTLEMIND training. While training brigades have not yet formally instituted BATTLEMIND training at mobilization stations, all have incorporated mental health training during the mobilization process.
The overall findings of MHAT IV confirm information from previous MHAT reports and existing knowledge of the effects of combat and operational stress conditions. The MHAT program provides invaluable information that leaders can use to improve the overall behavioral health of military members and their families.