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The Last Ambush? Aspects of mental health in the British armed forces
28 October 2013

Author: David Gee

Post-war mental health problems are most common in young soldiers from disadvantaged backgrounds; also in veterans who left the forces in the last decade.

This report from ForcesWatch, shows that young soldiers recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds are substantially more likely than other troops to return from war experiencing problems with their mental health.

The report, The Last Ambush? Aspects of mental health in the British armed forces, draws on over 150 sources, including 41 British military mental health studies, as well as testimony from veterans.  It shows that, compared with older personnel, younger recruits are significantly more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to drink at levels harmful to health, and to behave violently on their return from war.  Young recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds are at greatest risk.  Mental health problems are also alarmingly common among war veterans who left the forces since 2003.

Poverty plays a role in determining mental health risks in the forces, the report reveals.  Compared with other recruits, those enlisting at a young age from disadvantaged backgrounds are more vulnerable to stress, more likely to be given jobs that are more exposed to traumatically stressful events on the battlefield, and more likely to lack strong social support when they leave the forces in order to manage the effects of a mental health problem they may be experiencing.

The report calls for the policy of recruiting from age 16 to be reviewed so that the greatest burden of risk is not left to the youngest, most vulnerable recruits to shoulder.  Raising the minimum age of recruitment to 18 would ensure that recruits share the risks more equally and that they assume them at the age of adult responsibility.  The report notes that the UK is the only state in the European Union to recruit from age 16 and one of only 19 worldwide; most state armed forces now recruit only adults.

Download the full report (PDF 1294kb)

Download the Executive Summary (PDF 268kb)