HEALTH / WELL-BEING

Body image and psychosocial well-being among UK military personnel and veterans who sustained appearance-altering conflict injuries

Article

This study highlights the psychosocial experiences and unmet support needs of personnel and veterans who sustained appearance-altering injuries (e.g., scarring and limb loss). Findings can inform the development of interventions to support adjustment following appearance-altering injuries. A significant number of military personnel sustain injuries during deployments or training that resulting in an altered-appearance. Civilian research indicates that appearance-altering injuries can affect psychosocial wellbeing, yet little is known about the impact of such injuries among injured personnel. This study aimed to understand the psychosocial impact of appearance-altering injuries and possible support needs among UK military personnel and veterans. Interviews with 23 military participants who sustained appearance-altering injuries during deployments or training since 1969 were conducted. The authors found that military personnel and veterans experience a variety of psychosocial difficulties related to their changed appearance. While some of these are consistent with evidence from civilians, military-related nuances in the challenges, protective experiences, coping approaches, and preferences for support are evident. Personnel and veterans with appearance-altering injuries may require specific support for adjusting to their changed appearance and related difficulties. However, barriers to acknowledging appearance concerns were identified.

Abstract

A modest but significant number of military personnel sustained injuries during deployments resulting in an altered-appearance (e.g., limb loss and/or scarring). Civilian research indicates that appearance-altering injuries can affect psychosocial wellbeing, yet little is known about the impact of such injuries among injured personnel. This study aimed to understand the psychosocial impact of appearance-altering injuries and possible support needs among UK military personnel and veterans. Semi-structured interviews with 23 military participants who sustained appearance-altering injuries during deployments or training since 1969 were conducted. The interviews were analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis, identifying six master themes. These themes indicate that in the context of broader recovery experiences, military personnel and veterans experience a variety of psychosocial difficulties related to their changed appearance. While some of these are consistent with evidence from civilians, military-related nuances in the challenges, protective experiences, coping approaches, and preferences for support are evident. Personnel and veterans with appearance-altering injuries may require specific support for adjusting to their changed appearance and related difficulties. However, barriers to acknowledging appearance concerns were identified. Implications for support provision and future research are discussed.

Full Reference

Mary Keeling, Heidi Williamson, Victoria S. Williams, James Kiff, Sarah Evans, Dominic Murphy & Diana Harcourt (2022) Body image and psychosocial well-being among UK military personnel and veterans who sustained appearance-altering conflict injuries, Military Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/08995605.2022.2058302