Background: Approximately 18,000 personnel leave the UK Armed Forces annually. Those leaving before completing the minimum term of their contracts are called early Service leavers (ESLs). This study aims to identify characteristics associated with being an ESL, and compare the post-discharge mental health of ESLs and other Service leavers (non-ESLs).
Method: A cross-sectional study used data on ex-Serving UK Armed Forces personnel. ESLs were personnel leaving before completing their 3-4.5 years minimum Service contracts and were compared with non-ESLs. Multivariable logistic regression was used to estimate odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals for the associations between Service leaving status with socio-demographics, military characteristics and mental health outcomes.
Results: Of 845 Service leavers, 80 (9.5%) were ESLs. Being an ESL was associated with younger age, female sex, not being in a relationship, lower rank, serving in the Army and with a trend of reporting higher levels of childhood adversity, but not with deployment to Iraq. ESLs were at an increased risk of probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), common mental disorders, fatigue and multiple physical symptoms, but not alcohol misuse.
Conclusions: The study suggests that operational Service is not a factor causing personnel to become an ESL. Current mental health problems were more commonly reported among ESLs than other Service leavers. There may be a need to target interventions to ESLs on leaving Service to smooth their transition to civilian life and prevent the negative mental health outcomes experienced by ESLs further down the line.