Research Article: Suicide after Leaving the UK Armed Forces —A Cohort Study

Date Published: March 3, 2009

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Navneet Kapur, David While, Nick Blatchley, Isabelle Bray, Kate Harrison, Matthew Hotopf

Abstract: BackgroundFew studies have examined suicide risk in individuals once they have left the military. We aimed to investigate the rate, timing, and risk factors for suicide in all those who had left the UK Armed Forces (1996–2005).Methods and FindingsWe carried out a cohort study of ex-Armed Forces personnel by linking national databases of discharged personnel and suicide deaths (which included deaths receiving either a suicide or undetermined verdict). Comparisons were made with both general and serving populations. During the study period 233,803 individuals left the Armed Forces and 224 died by suicide. Although the overall rate of suicide was not greater than that in the general population, the risk of suicide in men aged 24 y and younger who had left the Armed Forces was approximately two to three times higher than the risk for the same age groups in the general and serving populations (age-specific rate ratios ranging from 170 to 290). The risk of suicide for men aged 30–49 y was lower than that in the general population. The risk was persistent but may have been at its highest in the first 2 y following discharge. The risk of suicide was greatest in males, those who had served in the Army, those with a short length of service, and those of lower rank. The rate of contact with specialist mental health was lowest in the age groups at greatest risk of suicide (14% for those aged under 20 y, 20% for those aged 20–24 y).ConclusionsYoung men who leave the UK Armed Forces were at increased risk of suicide. This may reflect preservice vulnerabilities rather than factors related to service experiences or discharge. Preventive strategies might include practical and psychological preparation for discharge and encouraging appropriate help-seeking behaviour once individuals have left the services.

Partial Text: The health of ex-service personnel continues to attract significant public interest [1]. For a minority the transition to civilian life is difficult [2]. It may result in social exclusion, homelessness, alcohol misuse, unemployment, and poor mental health [3,4]. Suicide is an important cause of premature mortality in the general population [5]. Although there have been anecdotal reports of increased suicide risk in specific groups of veterans [6], no studies to our knowledge have systematically examined suicide risk in individuals once they leave the military.



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