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Mental health disorders and alcohol misuse among UK military veterans and the general population: a comparison study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 August 2020

Rebecca Rhead*
Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Science, King's College London, London, UK King's Centre for Military Health Research, Department of Psychological Medicine, King's College London, London, UK
Deirdre MacManus
Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Science, King's College London, London, UK King's Centre for Military Health Research, Department of Psychological Medicine, King's College London, London, UK
Margaret Jones
King's Centre for Military Health Research, Department of Psychological Medicine, King's College London, London, UK
Neil Greenberg
King's Centre for Military Health Research, Department of Psychological Medicine, King's College London, London, UK
Nicola T Fear
King's Centre for Military Health Research, Department of Psychological Medicine, King's College London, London, UK Academic Department of Military Mental Health, Department of Psychological Medicine, King's College London, London, UK
Laura Goodwin
King's Centre for Military Health Research, Department of Psychological Medicine, King's College London, London, UK Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
Author for correspondence: Rebecca Rhead, E-mail:



For a small minority of personnel, military service can have a negative impact on their mental health. Yet no studies have assessed how the mental health of UK veterans (who served during the recent operations in Afghanistan or Iraq) compares to non-veterans, to determine if they are at a disadvantage. We examine the prevalence of mental disorders and alcohol misuse in UK veterans compared to non-veterans.


Veteran data were taken from the third phase of the King's Centre for Military Health Research cohort study (n = 2917). These data were compared with data on non-veterans taken from two large general population surveys: 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (n = 5871) and wave 6 of the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS, n = 22 760).


We found that, overall, UK veterans who served at the time of recent military operations were more likely to report a significantly higher prevalence of common mental disorders (CMD) (23% v. 16%), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (8% v. 5%) and alcohol misuse (11% v. 6%) than non-veterans. Stratifying by gender showed that the negative impact of being a veteran on mental health and alcohol misuse was restricted to male veterans. Being ill or disabled was associated with a higher prevalence of CMD and PTSD for both veterans and non-veterans.


Whilst the same sociodemographic groups within the veteran and non-veteran populations seemed to have an increased risk of mental health problems (e.g. those who were unemployed), male veterans, in particular, appear to be at a distinct disadvantage compared to those who have never served.

Original Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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