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Last Updated: Friday, 1 February 2008, 11:35 GMT
US army suicides set for new high
US soldiers conduct a house-to-house assessment mission in Baghdad, Jan 2008
Army suicide rates are now nearly double their 2001 levels
Suicide rates among US soldiers are heading for a record high, army data released on Thursday shows.

Eighty-nine suicides were confirmed in 2007, and if 32 suspected suicides are also confirmed, the total will rise above the 2006 figure of 102.

The 2006 suicide rate was the highest since US army records began in 1980.

"I think it's a marker of the stress on the force," said army psychiatric consultant Colonel Elsbeth Ritchie. "Families are tired".

The data, released at a news conference, also showed that more than 2,000 soldiers had tried to take their own lives or injure themselves in 2007, compared with fewer than 1,500 the previous year.

We have been perturbed by the rise, despite all of our efforts
Colonel Elsbeth Ritchie
US army psychiatric consultant
About 34 of the total 2007 deaths were soldiers who died while serving a tour of duty in Iraq, an increase from 27 in Iraq the previous year, the preliminary figures showed.

Army suicide rates have risen in recent years, coinciding with the US-led military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With military resources stretched, last year the Pentagon extended tours of duty from 12 months to 15. It has also sent some troops back to the wars several times.

Post-traumatic stress

Col Ritchie, psychiatric consultant to the army's surgeon general, said most suicides involved relationship difficulties, while a smaller percentage stemmed from legal, financial or occupational problems.

In general, soldiers did not take their lives as a direct result of combat, she said.

"The other issue is post-traumatic stress disorder, and historically post-traumatic stress disorder is associated with strained relationships, with substance abuse, so there can be in some cases a cascade," she said.

The US army's suicide rate was 17.5 per 100,000 troops in 2006.

This is lower than 19.9 for 100,000 in a comparable sector of the civilian population, but the army's highest since 1980, and close to double its lowest of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001.

Col Ritchie said the army was increasing mental health care for its troops and support for soldiers in handling relationship problems.

"We're trying to decrease stigma, but that is not an easy thing to do at all," she said.

"We have been perturbed by the rise, despite all of our efforts."

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