Risk of suicide for young veterans is four times higher than regular civilians, new study suggests

Study says the risk of suicide for British armed forces veterans under 25 is four times higher than civilians. Credit: PA Images

The risk of suicide is up to four times higher for young veterans than civilians, a new study has suggested.

Those who left the service between the ages of 16 and 34, or before completing a decade of service were at a higher risk, as were those who left due to medical or disciplinary reasons, it said.

But, although the study concluded those under 25 were at a higher risk of suicide, the researchers said this rate is "very slightly" lower than in the general population.

The study from the University of Manchester, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, was funded by the Ministry of Defence and looked at more than 458,000 veterans.

It linked data from the NHS and MoD to investigate suicide risk factors for service personnel who left the forces between 1996 and 2018.

Of the 458,058 personnel investigated - 1,086 died by suicide - a rate of 0.2%.

Veterans’ affairs minister Johnny Mercer said the suicide rates among younger former service personnel are a “concern”.

The study found reasons that linked to a higher risk included:

  • Leaving service between the ages of 16 and 34

  • Leaving before a decade of service

  • Being untrained on discharge

  • Leaving involuntarily, such as for disciplinary or medical reasons

Some factors that reduced the risk of dying by suicide included deployment on combat operations, being of a higher rank, and marriage.

Mr Mercer is a long-term campaigner against veterans’ suicide and said these results were broadly "expected".

He added: “This is a very difficult phenomenon. We won’t stop trying until we reach a zero-suicide place, because I think that’s what we owe these people.”Mr Mercer suggested the greater risk for younger veterans is linked to the “challenges or the childhood experiences” of recruits.He said: “That is a concern as to whether or not we are equipping them well enough to deal with the challenges, not only dealing with life’s events but the additional challenges of being in the military,“Of course that is a concern and we will relentlessly try to bring that rate down and equally understand why it is.”Researcher Nav Kapur said he cannot be “definitive” as to the reason behind the higher risks for younger veterans but that the “short lengths of service and the fact that deployment is protective suggests that it possibly isn’t in service exposures”.“Pre-service vulnerabilities will of course be important, as will the offer when veterans leave service,” he said, adding that the rate has not changed since the last study in 2008.The research also suggested there is a lower suicide risk for those serving in the Royal Navy and the RAF compared with the Army, which Professor Kapur said supports previous studies.

The full study can be found here.

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