Suicidal Ideation, Suicidal Attempts, and Self-Harm in the UK Armed Forces

Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2019 Dec;49(6):1762-1779. doi: 10.1111/sltb.12570. Epub 2019 Jul 10.


Introduction: In the UK military, suicide is infrequent and studies of self-harm behavior in this population are rare.

Objectives: To compare lifetime self-harm rates estimated on three occasions between 2004 and 2016 and to explore the associates of lifetime self-harm.

Method: Three phases of a UK AF cohort study (n = 10,272, 9,990, and 8,581, respectively) provided data. Telephone interviews assessed associates of self-harm among cohort members who reported subjective mental health problems in the past 3 years (n = 1,448). Validated measures of mental health and related stigmatization, social support, and help-seeking were obtained.

Results: Lifetime self-harm increased significantly (p < .001) from 1.8% among serving personnel and 3.8% among veterans in 2004/06 to 1.9% and 4.5% in 2007/09 and to 4.2% and 6.6% in 2014/16 in the two groups, respectively. Veterans were consistently significantly more likely to report lifetime self-harm than serving personnel. Significant determinants of lifetime self-harm included current mental disorder symptoms, stigmatization, poor social support, suicidal ideation, and seeking help from formal medical sources.

Conclusion: Self-harm has increased over time in the UK serving and veteran community. Suicide prevention should focus on ameliorating mental disorder by encouraging engagement with health care, reducing negative views of mental illness, and fostering social support.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders* / psychology
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel* / psychology
  • Military Personnel* / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Injurious Behavior* / epidemiology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior* / psychology
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide Prevention*
  • Suicide* / psychology
  • Suicide* / statistics & numerical data
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Veterans / psychology