Study finds short-serving veterans at risk of self-harm

People who have served in the Armed Forces for a short time are at increased risk of self-harm, according to a study by the University of Glasgow.

There have been few previous studies on self-harm in veterans. This new study analysed the long-term risks of non-fatal self-harm, serious enough to warrant hospital admission, in all veterans living in Scotland who served between 1960 and 2012, in comparison with non-veterans.

Overall the veterans had a 30% increase in risk, but the highest risk was in people who left service before completing their initial training, whose risk was increased by 70%. People who had served for longest were at 60% reduced risk. The study found that there was an increased risk in both the youngest veterans and in middle-aged people. Although young women usually have a higher risk of self-harm than men, the study did not show any significant increase in risk in women veterans.

Lead researcher Dr Beverly Bergman said: “This is an important study which provides the first insight into an important area of veterans’ mental health. Although overall the veterans were at increased risk of self-harm, the risk reduced steadily with longer service, which suggests that the biggest risk factors come from people’s pre-service life and that longer military service is protective.”

The study, which used data from the Scottish Veterans Health Study to examine hospital admissions due to non-fatal self-harm, is published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

First published: 31 August 2018

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