Short service in forces leads to increased risk of self-harm – study

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

Records of more than 50,000 veterans living in Scotland who served between 1960 and 2012 were compared to non-veterans to look at the long-term risks of non-fatal self-harm.

A research team from the University of Glasgow found that overall, veterans had a 30% increase in risk, but the highest risk was in people who left service before completing their initial training – they were found to have an increased risk of 70%.

Those who had served the longest were at 60% reduced risk.

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Researchers did not find any significant increase in risk of self-harm in female veterans (Peter Byrne/PA)

Researchers said the findings suggest the biggest risk factors come from veterans’ “pre-service life”.

The study has been described as important as there has been little previous analysis on self-harm in veterans.

The report, 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.

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.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “Mental health issues can affect anyone and we encourage people to seek support from medical experts so they can get the help they need.

“Although, as the study points out, the main factors leading to individuals self-harming occur before they join the military, the MOD provides specialised support services for anyone who needs it.”

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