Self-harm and attempted suicide among UK armed forces personnel: results of a cross-sectional survey

Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2012 Jul;58(4):433-9. doi: 10.1177/0020764011408534. Epub 2011 Jun 21.


Aims: Little has been reported on self-harm among the UK Armed Forces, partly due to the difficulties in recording self-harm, within an often-difficult-to-reach population. This study assesses the lifetime prevalence of attempted suicide and self-harm within currently serving and ex-service personnel of the UK Armed Forces.

Methods: Telephone interviews were conducted with 821 personnel who had previously participated in the King's Centre for Military Health Research military health study. Within the telephone interview, participants were asked about attempted suicide and episodes of self-harm.

Results: A lifetime prevalence of 5.6% for intentional self-harm (self-harm or attempted suicide) was reported. Intentional self-harm was associated with psychological morbidity (in particular, post-traumatic stress disorder) and adverse experiences in childhood. Ex-service personnel reported lifetime prevalence more than double that of serving personnel (10.5% vs 4.2%, respectively). Participants reporting intentional self-harm were younger (34.4 years vs 39.8 years).

Conclusion: A lifetime prevalence of 5.6% for attempted suicide and self-harm is higher than previous research has suggested. Younger service personnel, those who have experienced adversity in childhood, those with other psychological morbidity, and ex-service personnel are more likely to report self-harm behaviours.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Military Personnel / psychology
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • Qualitative Research
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology