Post-war mental health problems are most common in young soldiers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Read the ForcesWatch response to the Ministry of Defence’s statement about this report
Young soldiers recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds are substantially more likely than other troops to return from war experiencing problems with their mental health, says a wide-ranging report published today by human rights group ForcesWatch.
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.
Citing studies of large, representative samples of the armed forces, the report finds that:
- 8% of Iraq War veterans who enlisted without GCSEs or Scottish Standards met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their deployment, compared with 4% in the armed forces as a whole and 3% in the general population.(i) Personnel without GCSEs typically enlist at younger ages.
- 26% of personnel aged 18-24 were found to be drinking at levels harmful to health, which is twice the 13% average for the armed forces and more than three times the 8% rate found among civilians of similar age.(ii)
- 24% of Iraq War veterans in the lowest ranks, who are typically the youngest, reported behaving violently in the weeks following their homecoming; the average rate across the armed forces was 13% .(iii) The rate of violent offending among Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans after their deployment was twice what is was before they enlisted.(iv)
- Over the past 20 years, the suicide rate has been 82% higher among male soldiers under 20 than among civilian men of the same age.(v) The suicide rate among former armed forces personnel aged under 20 has been nearly three times as high as that in the same age group in the general population (between 1996 and 2005).(vi)
Given that there remains a stigma in the armed forces attached to reporting mental health issues and most studies do not assess personnel fully anonymously, the true prevalence of mental health problems is likely to be higher than these figures suggest.(vii)
As a group, younger personnel from adverse childhood backgrounds are both more vulnerable to war stress and over-represented in front-line Infantry roles where exposure to traumatic experiences is greatest, the report explains.… Read more