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HEALTH / WELL-BEING

Describing the profile of a population of UK veterans seeking support for mental health difficulties

October, 2017
Article:

There is compelling evidence that indicates a higher prevalence of health issues among service personnel compared to the general public. For example, prevalence rates of substance misuse in veterans appear to be higher for both rates of smoking (26% versus 19%) and alcohol misuse (39% versus 25%).  However, there is mixed evidence concerning mental health differences. One study that compared veterans to the general public, found that veterans were at no greater risk of mental health difficulties than matched controls In contrast, another study comparing serving members of the Armed Forces and matched members of the general public, found that service personnel were nearly twice as likely to report common symptoms of mental illness. Despite the differences in these findings, it is clear from looking at the wider UK military population that mental health issues are a significant problem. Prevalence rates for common mental health difficulties and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in UK military personnel have been reported at 20% and 4%, respectively.

In this study, we reported the profile of a national sample of UK veterans who had sought support for mental health difficulties. In comparison to the demographics of the current UK military, help-seeking veterans appeared more likely to be male and to have served in the Army. Significant proportions of participants also reported not being in employment and being single. The mean age of participants was 50.9 years old with the majority aged 45 years old and above. This contrasts with previous research of UK military populations which has suggested that younger individuals are at increased risk of experiencing mental illness. However, this finding may reflect the significant time it can take for veterans to seek help, as prior studies have documented that on average it takes veterans nearly 11 years after leaving service to seek support. We found that taking longer to seek support was associated with greater symptom severity for PTSD.

Abstract

Abstract Background: Evidence suggests that veterans with mental health issues have poorer treatment outcomes than civilian counterparts. Understanding the difficulties faced by veterans could help focus treatments and improve outcomes. Aims: To survey a representative sample of treatment-seeking veterans to explore their mental health needs. Methods: A random sample of UK veterans who had engaged with a national mental health charity in the UK was drawn. Individuals completed questionnaires about their health, military experiences and pre-enlistment vulnerabilities. Results: Four hundred and three out of six hundred (67.2%) participants returned completed questionnaires. PTSD was the most commonly endorsed mental health difficulty (82%), followed by problems with anger (74%), common mental health difficulties (72%) and alcohol misuse (43%). Comorbidity was frequent; with 32% of those with PTSD meeting criteria for three other health outcomes versus only 5% with PTSD alone. Conclusions: Results indicate the complexity of presentations within treatment seeking veterans. These difficulties may partly explain the poorer treatment outcomes reported in veterans in comparison to the general public. As such, it would be prudent for interventions targeted at veterans with mental health difficulties to attempt to address the range of issues faced by this population rather than focus on a particular presenting problem.

Full Reference

Murphy,D., Ashwick,R.,Palmer,E.,Busuttil,W. (2017). Describing the profile of a population of UK veterans seeking support for mental health difficulties. Journal of Mental Health, 0,1-8.

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