Leading civilian UK centre of excellence for military health research

Content Warning: self-harm and suicide behaviours

About the study

The rates of self-harm and suicide behaviours among the UK Armed Forces were previously low but have increased in recent years, creating a cause for concern. Not all military personnel in the UK who experience mental health problems seek professional support even though it might be beneficial for them. Despite the fact that promoting help-seeking is a key suicide prevention strategy, little is known about the experiences of UK Armed Forces veterans when seeking (or not seeking) help for self-harm and suicide behaviours.

The aim of this study is to qualitatively explore UK veterans' experiences of seeking (or not seeking) help for self-harm and/or suicide behaviours. For the purpose of this study, the term suicide behaviours encompasses suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

Who is carrying out the study?

This study is being conducted as part of a PhD nested within Phase 4 of the KCMHR Health and Wellbeing Study, a long-term study investigating the health and wellbeing of Iraq and Afghanistan era UK serving personnel and veterans.

The PhD, conducted by Charlotte Williamson and supervised by Dr Sharon Stevelink and Dr Marie-Louise Sharp, seeks to explore self-harm and suicide behaviours in the UK Armed Forces.

Who can participate in this study?

If you are a veteran and you took part in Phase 4 of the KCMHR Health and Wellbeing Study, consented to further contact and reported experience of self-harm and/or suicide behaviours, you may be contacted by the research team in the coming months to ask if you would like to take part in this study.  

We are interested in speaking with a range of veterans with different experiences relating to self-harm and suicide behaviours; those who did and did not seek help for these behaviours, those who sought help formally in a clinical setting or informally through friends and family, and members of the tri-services.

What will participation involve?

This study will involve you taking part in a telephone discussion where a researcher will ask you several questions related to the causes and context of your self-harm and/or suicide behaviours and your experiences of seeking help. If you sought help, you will be asked to discuss what challenges you experienced when seeking help and the things that made seeking help easier. If you did not seek help, you will be asked to discuss if there was anything that prevented you from seeking help.

The discussion will take approximately 60 minutes but may take more or less time depending on how much information you wish to share. It will be held in a private setting and at a time convenient for you. The discussion will be audio-recorded and all spoken content will be written up and analysed.

All information is kept strictly confidential, stored anonymously, will not be identifiable, and will never be shared with anyone outside of the immediate research team.

We understand this topic may be difficult for individuals to talk about, however we also know that participants value being able to have their experiences heard and their contribution has the potential to be used to help others in the Armed Forces in the future.

For more information please see the Participant Information Sheet.

Why is it important?

This work will allow us to make recommendations for future research and highlight potential implications for policy and practice. Understanding the barriers and facilitators faced by UK veterans when accessing support for self-harm and suicide behaviours may provide a means for helping veterans to access support sooner and lessen the impact on their health and wellbeing. Additionally, these factors should be carefully considered when developing and implementing effective prevention and intervention strategies for this group.

Want to know more?

For updates on this study and other work being conducted at KCMHR please follow @CF_Williamson and @kcmhr on Twitter and take a look at the most recent blog posts.

Need to access help and support?

Please see our Signposting Booklet detailing national and local support for the Armed Forces veteran community.

For immediate crisis help:

NHS 111 Online
Speak to health professionals for advice about mental and physical health. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Tel: 111 Web: 111.nhs.uk

Someone to talk to 24 hours a day. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Tel: 116 123 Email: [email protected] Web: samaritans.org

Combat Stress 24 Hour Helpline
Provides confidential help and advice on any mental health issues to the military community and their families. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Helpline: 0800 138 1619 Email: [email protected] Text: 07537 404719 (standard charges may apply)
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