Veteran suicides will start to be recorded in first official count to understand mental health needs

ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports on why the change in how suicides are recorded will help veterans

The government will start officially counting veteran suicides, it has announced after years of campaigning by veterans groups and bereaved families.

Although veteran groups have been undertaking unofficial counts since 2018, the government says official data will be used to understand where dedicated mental health services are needed in England and Wales and allow the government to ensure these services are there for veterans.

The new reporting method will use data collected from the recent veteran's question in the 2021 Census and match it with ONS-held data on suicides.

This will allow the government to produce a national statistic, known as a national measure, of the total number of veterans who die by suicide each year.

Annual data compiled by campaign group Veterans United Against Suicide shows the number has not decreased over the past four years. It estimated that in 2020, 88 veterans and serving troops took their own lives.

ITV News has been looking at suicides and the mental health of veterans since November 2018, when we spoke to Jo Jukes – the widow of a veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and took his own life.

Jo Jukes, whose husband died by suicide, explains what impact the change will have

On Tuesday, she said: "How can you put support in place unless you know what the actual problem is. Until now, we haven't looked at the statistics that lay behind them. So this is a massive step forward."

Hayley Gough's husband Lance Shingler was a veteran who took an overdose while suffering from PTSD.

"I think it's what we've needed for a very long time," she said.

"If anything can be done to prevent it happening in the future and for it to be highlighted even more than it is, then that can only be a positive."

It is expected the first annual statistics will be published in 2023.

Veterans minister Leo Docherty says he hopes the changes will be a "small comfort" to bereaved families

The move has been made possible after a data sharing agreement between the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Minister for Defence People and Veterans Leo Docherty announced the news during a visit to Combat Stress in Leatherhead.

Mr Docherty said: “Any suicide is a tragedy and collecting better data on these instances will help government better target support for those who need it.

Number of veterans and serving troops who have taken their own lives, as recorded by Veterans United Against Suicide

2018 - 87

2019 - 76

2020 - 88

2021 (up to September 20) - 59

“This builds on a number of studies which are already taking place to better understand why some veterans take their lives.

“Support is out there and hope that today’s agreement will help us reach more people who may be struggling.”

Sir Ian Diamond, National Statistician, said: “The Office for National Statistics is constantly working to provide new insight that can be used to make a real difference to some of the most vulnerable in society.

Veterans salute as the flag draped coffin in the hearse passes through the High Street of Wootton Bassett in 2010 Credit: Ben Birchall/PA

“Understanding an issue is the first step to solving it and producing this new measure will help inform decisions to tackle deaths by suicide of our incredible armed forces veterans.

“It is important that we invest the time and effort to produce high quality estimates that properly shine a light on this critical issue.”

Authorities are looking into plans for official veteran suicide counts in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Office for Veterans’ Affairs is also funding a study by Kings Centre for Military Health Research looking at all aspects of veterans' lives, including mental health.

Some charities and resources to help those bereaved by suicide:

Finding The Words is a guide to help people offer support to a friend or family member who is bereaved by suicide.

Suicide & Co offers suicide bereavement counselling, a list of crisis support and a help hub.

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide is a national peer-to-peer support service for those over the age of 18 years impacted by loss through suicide. All volunteers have been bereaved by suicide for at least two years.

CALM's helpline can offer support to people struggling.

Suicide Bereavement UK offers resources for those bereaved and for postvention care, along with educational materials.

The Support After Suicide Partnership offers a list of where to find the right support for you.

For The Fallen provides help and support to the families of military personnel who have taken their own lives.

Meanwhile, the MoD is looking at a study to track the cause of deaths, including suicides, in all personnel who served in the UK armed forces since 2001.

It continues to monitor deaths in those who served in the 1982 Falklands campaign and the 1990/1991 Gulf conflict.

The government is providing £2 million from 2019/20 to 2020/21 to the Zero Suicide Alliance, which aims to achieve zero suicides across the NHS and in communities by improved suicide awareness and prevention training.

If you have an emergency and a life is in danger, contact the emergency services on 999. Samaritans is available 24/7 and can be called free on 116 123.

More information on how to help someone who may be suffering here.