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Post-traumatic growth (PTG) refers to beneficial psychological change following trauma.
This study explores the sociodemographic, health and deployment-related factors associated with PTG in serving/ex-serving UK armed forces personnel deployed to military operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Multinomial logistic regression analyses were applied to retrospective questionnaire data collected 2014–2016, stratified by gender. PTG scores were split into tertiles of no/very low PTG, low PTG and moderate/large PTG.
A total of 1447/4610 male personnel (30.8%) and 198/570 female personnel (34.8%) reported moderate/large PTG. Male personnel were more likely to report moderate/large PTG compared with no/very low PTG if they reported a greater belief of being in serious danger (relative risk ratio (RRR) 2.47, 95% CI 1.68–3.64), were a reservist (RRR 2.37, 95% CI 1.80–3.11), reported good/excellent general health (fair/poor general health: RRR 0.33, 95% CI 0.24–0.46), a greater number of combat experiences, less alcohol use, better mental health, were of lower rank or were younger. Female personnel were more likely to report moderate/large PTG if they were single (in a relationship: RRR 0.40, 95% CI 0.22–0.74), had left military service (RRR 2.34, 95% CI 1.31–4.17), reported better mental health (common mental disorder: RRR 0.37, 95% CI 0.17–0.84), were a reservist, reported a greater number of combat experiences or were younger. Post-traumatic stress disorder had a curvilinear relationship with PTG.
A moderate/large degree of PTG among the UK armed forces is associated with mostly positive health experiences, except for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is a positive psychological consequence of trauma. The aims of this study were to investigate whether combat injury was associated with deployment-related PTG in a cohort of UK military personnel who were deployed to Afghanistan, and whether post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and pain mediate this relationship.
521 physically injured (n = 138 amputation; n = 383 non-amputation injury) and 514 frequency-matched uninjured personnel completed questionnaires including the deployment-related Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (DPTGI). DPTGI scores were categorised into tertiles of: no/low (score 0–20), moderate (score 21–34) or a large (35–63) degree of deployment-related PTG. Analysis was completed using generalised structural equation modelling.
A large degree of PTG was reported by 28.0% (n = 140) of the uninjured group, 36.9% (n = 196) of the overall injured group, 45.4% (n = 62) of amputee and 34.1% (n = 134) of the non-amputee injured subgroups. Combat injury had a direct effect on reporting a large degree of PTG [Relative risk ratio (RRR) 1.59 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.17–2.17)] compared to sustaining no injury. Amputation injuries also had a significant direct effect [RRR 2.18 (95% CI 1.24–3.75)], but non-amputation injuries did not [RRR 1.35 (95% CI 0.92–1.93)]. PTSD, depression and pain partially mediate this relationship, though mediation differed depending on the injury subtype. PTSD had a curvilinear relationship with PTG, whilst depression had a negative association and pain had a positive association.
Combat injury, in particular injury resulting in traumatic amputation, is associated with reporting a large degree of PTG.
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.
A proportion of ex-military personnel who develop mental health and social problems end up in the Criminal Justice System. A government review called for better understanding of pathways to offending among ex-military personnel to improve services and reduce reoffending. We utilised data linkage with criminal records to examine the patterns of offending among military personnel after they leave service and the associated risk (including mental health and alcohol problems) and socio-economic protective factors.
Questionnaire data from a cohort study of 13 856 randomly selected UK military personnel were linked with national criminal records to examine changes in the rates of offending after leaving service.
All types of offending increased after leaving service, with violent offending being the most prevalent. Offending was predicted by mental health and alcohol problems: probable PTSD, symptoms of common mental disorder and aggressive behaviour (verbal, property and threatened or actual physical aggression). Reduced risk of offending was associated with post-service socio-economic factors: absence of debt, stable housing and relationship satisfaction. These factors were associated with a reduced risk of offending in the presence of mental health risk factors.
Ex-military personnel are more likely to commit violent offences after leaving service than other offence-types. Mental health and alcohol problems are associated with increased risk of post-service offending, and socio-economic stability is associated with reduced risk of offending among military veterans with these problems. Efforts to reduce post-service offending should encompass management of socio-economic risk factors as well as mental health.
Little is known about the prevalence of mental health outcomes in UK personnel at the end of the British involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
We examined the prevalence of mental disorders and alcohol misuse, whether this differed between serving and ex-serving regular personnel and by deployment status.
This is the third phase of a military cohort study (2014–2016; n = 8093). The sample was based on participants from previous phases (2004–2006 and 2007–2009) and a new randomly selected sample of those who had joined the UK armed forces since 2009.
The prevalence was 6.2% for probable post-traumatic stress disorder, 21.9% for common mental disorders and 10.0% for alcohol misuse. Deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan and a combat role during deployment were associated with significantly worse mental health outcomes and alcohol misuse in ex-serving regular personnel but not in currently serving regular personnel.
The findings highlight an increasing prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder and a lowering prevalence of alcohol misuse compared with our previous findings and stresses the importance of continued surveillance during service and beyond.
Declaration of interest:
All authors are based at King's College London which, for the purpose of this study and other military-related studies, receives funding from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD). S.A.M.S., M.J., L.H., D.P., S.M. and R.J.R. salaries were totally or partially paid by the UK MoD. The UK MoD provides support to the Academic Department of Military Mental Health, and the salaries of N.J., N.G. and N.T.F. are covered totally or partly by this contribution. D.Mu. is employed by Combat Stress, a national UK charity that provides clinical mental health services to veterans. D.MacM. is the lead consultant for an NHS Veteran Mental Health Service. N.G. is the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Lead for Military and Veterans’ Health, a trustee of Walking with the Wounded, and an independent director at the Forces in Mind Trust; however, he was not directed by these organisations in any way in relation to his contribution to this paper. N.J. is a full-time member of the armed forces seconded to King's College London. N.T.F. reports grants from the US Department of Defense and the UK MoD, is a trustee (unpaid) of The Warrior Programme and an independent advisor to the Independent Group Advising on the Release of Data (IGARD). S.W. is a trustee (unpaid) of Combat Stress and Honorary Civilian Consultant Advisor in Psychiatry for the British Army (unpaid). S.W. is affiliated to the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King's College London in partnership with Public Health England, in collaboration with the University of East Anglia and Newcastle University. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the National Health Service, the NIHR, the Department of Health, Public Health England or the UK MoD.
Little is known about the social and emotional well-being of children whose fathers have been deployed to the conflicts in Iraq/Afghanistan or who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
To examine the emotional and behavioural well-being of children whose fathers are or have been in the UK armed forces, in particular the effects of paternal deployment to the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan and paternal PTSD.
Fathers who had taken part in a large tri-service cohort and had children aged 3–16 years were asked about the emotional and behavioural well-being of their child(ren) and assessed for symptoms of PTSD via online questionnaires and telephone interview.
In total, 621 (67%) fathers participated, providing data on 1044 children. Paternal deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan was not associated with childhood emotional and behavioural difficulties. Paternal probable PTSD were associated with child hyperactivity. This finding was limited to boys and those under 11 years of age.
This study showed that adverse childhood emotional and behavioural well-being was not associated with paternal deployment but was associated with paternal probable PTSD.
Declaration of interest
N.T.F. is a trustee of the Warrior Programme, a charity supporting ex-service personnel and their families. She is also a member of the Independent Group Advising on the Release of Data (IGARD). S.W. is a trustee of Combat Stress, a charity supporting ex-service personnel and their families, and President of the Royal Society of Medicine. S.W. is partially funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King's College London in partnership with Public Health England (PHE), in collaboration with the University of East Anglia and Newcastle University.
Research into violence among military personnel has not differentiated between stranger- and family-directed violence. While military factors (combat exposure and post-deployment mental health problems) are risk factors for general violence, there has been limited research on their impact on violence within the family environment. This study aims to compare the prevalence of family-directed and stranger-directed violence among a deployed sample of UK military personnel and to explore risk factors associated with both family- and stranger-directed violence.
This study utilised data from a large cohort study which collected information by questionnaire from a representative sample of randomly selected deployed UK military personnel (n = 6711).
The prevalence of family violence immediately following return from deployment was 3.6% and 7.8% for stranger violence. Family violence was significantly associated with having left service, while stranger violence was associated with younger age, male gender, being single, having a history of antisocial behaviour as well as having left service. Deployment in a combat role was significantly associated with both family and stranger violence after adjustment for confounders [adjusted odds ratio (aOR) = 1.92 (1.25–2.94), p = 0.003 and aOR = 1.77 (1.31–2.40), p < 0.001, respectively], as was the presence of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, common mental disorders and aggression.
Exposure to combat and post-deployment mental health problems are risk factors for violence both inside and outside the family environment and should be considered in violence reduction programmes for military personnel. Further research using a validated measurement tool for family violence would improve comparability with other research.
Risk factors for poor mental health among UK veterans include demonstrating symptoms while in service, being unmarried, holding lower rank, experiencing childhood adversity and having a combat role; however, deploy ment to a combat zone does not appear to be associated with mental health outcomes. While presentation of late-onset, post-service difficulties may explain some of the difference between veterans and those in service, delayed-onset post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) appears to be partly explained by prior subthreshold PTSD, as well as other mental health difficulties. In the longer term, veterans do not appear to suffer worse mental health than equivalent civilians. This overall lack of difference, despite increased mental health difficulties in those who have recently left, suggests that veterans are not at risk of worse mental health and/or that poor mental health is a cause, rather than a consequence, of leaving service.
Research of military personnel who deployed to the conflicts in Iraq or
Afghanistan has suggested that there are differences in mental health
outcomes between UK and US military personnel.
To compare the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
hazardous alcohol consumption, aggressive behaviour and multiple physical
symptoms in US and UK military personnel deployed to Iraq.
Data were from one US (n = 1560) and one UK
(n = 313) study of post-deployment military health of
army personnel who had deployed to Iraq during 2007–2008. Analyses were
stratified by high- and low-combat exposure.
Significant differences in combat exposure and sociodemographics were
observed between US and UK personnel; controlling for these variables
accounted for the difference in prevalence of PTSD, but not in the total
symptom level scores. Levels of hazardous alcohol consumption (low-combat
exposure: odds ratio (OR) = 0.13, 95% CI 0.07–0.21; high-combat exposure:
OR = 0.23, 95% CI 0.14–0.39) and aggression (low-combat exposure: OR =
0.36, 95% CI 0.19–0.68) were significantly lower in US compared with UK
personnel. There was no difference in multiple physical symptoms.
Differences in self-reported combat exposures explain most of the
differences in reported prevalence of PTSD. Adjusting for self-reported
combat exposures and sociodemographics did not explain differences in
hazardous alcohol consumption or aggression.
Most accounts of deployment mental health in UK armed forces personnel
rely on retrospective assessments.
We present data relating to the burden of mental ill health and the
effect of support measures including operational, family, welfare and
medical support obtained on two occasions some 18 months apart.
A total of 2794 personnel completed a survey while deployed to
Afghanistan; 1363 in 2011 and 1431 in 2010. Their responses were compared
The prevalence of self-report mental health disorder was low and not
significantly different between the surveys; the rates of probable
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were 2.8% in 2010 and 1.8% in 2011;
for common mental health disorders the rates were 17.0% and 16.0%
respectively. Remembering receiving predeployment psychoeducation,
perceptions of good leadership and good family support were all
significantly associated with better mental health. Seeking support from
non-medical sources and reporting sick for medical reasons were both
significantly associated with poorer mental health.
Over a period of 18 months, deployment mental health symptoms in UK armed
forces personnel were fewer than those obtained from a military
population sample despite continuing deployment in a high-threat context
and were associated with perceptions of support.
Most studies of the mental health of UK armed forces focus on
retrospective accounts of deployment and few sample personnel while they
This study reports the results of a survey of deployed personnel,
examining the perceived impact of events at home and military support for
the family on current mental health during the deployment.
Surveys were conducted with 2042 British forces personnel serving in Iraq
and Afghanistan. Prevalence of common mental disorders was assessed with
the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) and post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) was assessed with the PTSD Checklist – Civilian
The prevalence of common mental disorders was 17.8% and of probable PTSD
was 2.8%. Perceived home difficulties significantly influenced the mental
health of deployed personnel; the greater the perception of negative
events in the home environment, the greater the reporting of adverse
mental health effects. This finding was independent of combat exposure
and was only partially mitigated by being well led and reporting
subjectively good unit cohesion; however, the effect of the totality of
home-front events was not improved by the latter. Poor perceived military
support for the family had a detrimental impact on deployment mental
The armed forces offer many support services to the partners and families
of deployed personnel and ensuring that the efforts being made on their
behalf are well communicated might improve the mental health of deployed
For armed forces personnel, data on help-seeking behaviour and receipt of treatment for mental disorders are important for both research and policy.
To examine mental healthcare service use and receipt of treatment in a sample of the UK military.
Participants were drawn from an existing UK military health cohort. The sample was stratified by reserve status and by participation in the main war-fighting period of the Iraq War. Participants completed a telephone-based structured diagnostic interview comprising the Patient Health Questionnaire and Primary Care Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Screen (PC–PTSD), and a series of questions about service utilisation and treatment receipt.
Only 23% of those with common mental disorders and still serving in the military were receiving any form of medical professional help. Non-medical sources of help such as chaplains were more widely used. Among regular personnel in receipt of professional help, most were seen in primary care (79%) and the most common treatment was medication or counselling/psychotherapy. Few regular personnel were receiving cognitive–behavioural therapy (CBT). These findings are comparable with those reported for the general population.
In the UK armed forces, the majority of those with mental disorders are not currently seeking medical help for their symptoms. Further work to understand barriers to care is important and timely given that this is a group at risk of occupational psychiatric injury.
Exposure to childhood adversity may explain why only a minority of combatants exposed to trauma develop psychological problems.
To examine the association between self-reported childhood vulnerability and later health outcomes in a large randomly selected male military cohort.
Data are derived from the first stage of a cohort study comparing Iraq veterans and non-deployed UK military personnel. We describe data collected by questionnaire from males in the regular UK armed forces (n=7937).
Pre-enlistment vulnerability is associated with being single, of lower rank, having low educational attainment and serving in the Army. Pre-enlistment vulnerability is associated with a variety of negative health outcomes. Two main factors emerge as important predictors of ill health: a ‘family relationships’ factor reflecting the home environment and an ‘externalising behaviour’ factor reflecting behavioural disturbance.
Pre-enlistment vulnerability is an important individual risk factor for ill health in military men. Awareness of such factors is important in understanding post-combat psychiatric disorder.
Deployment to the 2003 Iraq War was associated with ill health in reserve armed forces personnel.
To investigate reasons for the excess of ill health in reservists.
UK personnel who were deployed to the 2003 Iraq War completed a health survey about experiences on deployment to Iraq. Health status was measured using self-report of common mental disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fatigue, physical symptoms and well-being.
Reservists were older and of higher rank than the regular forces. They reported higher exposure to traumatic experiences, lower unit cohesion, more problems adjusting to homecoming and lower marital satisfaction. Most health outcomes could be explained by role, experience of traumatic events or unit cohesion in theatre. PTSD symptoms were the one exception and were paradoxically most powerfully affected by differences in problems at home rather than events in Iraq.
The increased ill-health of reservists appears to be due to experiences on deployment and difficulties with homecoming.
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