Ministry of Defence to study armed forces suicide rates after more than 40 servicemen and women kill themselves in last year

Study to take place amid concerns of surge in mental health problems among troops and veterans

Ryan Wilkinson
Sunday 21 October 2018 16:53
Comments
Matt Hancock: The truth is that, for an awful long time, mental health has simply not had the same level of support – both resources and how society talks about it'

Suicide rates among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are to be studied by the Ministry of Defence.

Cases where former servicemen and women have taken their own lives will be a focus for the research into the causes of death among those who leave the armed forces.

The study will take place amid concerns the rate of mental health problems among troops and veterans has surged in the last decade.

It was reported on Sunday that more than 40 former or current servicemen and women are believed to have taken their lives so far this year.

Defence minister Tobias Ellwood said the “vital” new study will further the MoD’s understanding of the “wellbeing of our people so we can continue to provide the best possible care to all who have served”.

“Our armed forces do a magnificent job and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to each man and woman who has laid their life on the line to keep our country safe,” Mr Ellwood said.

“Most transition successfully into civilian life once they have put away their uniforms, but we cannot afford to be complacent. Mental health problems can affect us all and the wellbeing of our people remains a top priority.”

In July, the House of Commons Defence Committee published its latest report on the scale of mental health issues in the armed forces.

It warned the number of armed forces personnel and veterans seeking mental health care has nearly doubled over the past decade, with particularly high levels among those who saw combat in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The MPs said it was still taking “too long” for veterans to access treatment, with some falling through the gaps and availability of care varying in different parts of the UK.

Official MoD figures showed 3.1 per cent of serving personnel are diagnosed with mental health conditions, twice the proportion seen in 2008-09.

But the committee warned that the number of veterans with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression could be three times higher, at about 10 per cent, amid concern some may not seek help because of the stigma surrounding mental health.

Deployment to combat roles in Iraq or Afghanistan “clearly increased the likelihood of mental health conditions”, with one 2014 study finding PTSD levels of 6.9 per cent among regular troops and 6 per cent among reservists.

Despite the worrying figures, the cross-party committee said it would be wrong and “harmful” to think most servicemen and women are damaged by their experience in the military, stressing that the “vast majority” leave with no mental problems.

The Sunday Times reported 42 former or current servicemen and women are believed to have taken their lives since January.

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