POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Psychological Health of Military Personnel

Published Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A POSTnote which examines the impact of military service on the psychological health of serving personnel, reservists, veterans and their families. It outlines what is known about the effectiveness of interventions, and highlights areas for further research.

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Armed Forces


  • The prevalence of common mental health problems in the military is higher than in the general population, but remains stable.
  • While PTSD accounts for only a small number of cases, combat troops and reservists are at higher risk of developing it.
  • Regulars who leave service early, and reservists, have a higher risk of developing mental health problems than their peers. Outcomes for early service leavers are likely to relate to pre-enlistment risk factors.
  • Drinking at harmful levels is widespread in the Forces.
  • The MOD has several strategies to protect the mental health of the Armed Forces.
  • However, stigma associated with mental ill health is a major barrier to accessing help.

Society has a moral obligation and duty of care to service personnel and their families, as enshrined in the The Armed Forces Covenant. Monitoring the mental health of the military is therefore the focus of much research and health surveillance undertaken by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and by academics. While MOD collects data about the mental health of those personnel who are currently serving and who actively seek help, this does not represent a complete picture of the prevalence of mental ill health in the overall military population. In order to understand the trends in the whole population, as well as those who have left sevice ('veterans'), researchers at King's College London Centre for Military Health Research follow large cohorts of UK personnel who served in operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations and compare their health outcomes with those of the general population. You can read more about the Centre's programme of research and their contribution to policy on their website.

For those who have left the military, a range of services and support are provided by numerous charities as well as through the MOD's Veterans Welfare Service and the NHS. A recent report, Counting the Costs, estimated that of the 758,000 regulars who served between 1991-2014, 66,000 will need support, either now or in the future, for physical or mental health problems related to their service. There is good evidence that many of these people will not seek help. You can read more about the barriers to accessing help and efforts to overcome them in the briefing.

POSTnotes POST-PN-0518

Authors: Sarah Bunn; Ruth Nottingham

Topics: Afghanistan, Armed forces, Armed forces welfare, Iraq, Military operations, Research and innovation, Science, Veterans

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