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Age at entry to UK military service and long-term mental health
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  • Published on:
    Enlistment of under-18s: Abiding concerns - Authors' response
    • Beverly P Bergman, Honorary Clinical Associate Professor Institute of Health & Wellbeing, University of Glasgow
    • Other Contributors:
      • Daniel F Mackay, Professor of Public Health Informatics
      • Jill P Pell, Henry Mechan Professor of Public Health

    Dear Editor,

    Thank you for publishing the Rapid Response to our paper by Cooper et al. The authors agree with our findings that junior entrants to the Armed Forces have a lower risk of developing a severe mental health disorder compared with older entrants, but have noted that we found that all veterans were more likely to develop mental disorders (especially PTSD) then matched non-veterans.
    The increased risk of mental health disorders in veterans overall compared with non-veterans is not a new observation. In our 2016 paper(1) we showed that overall, veterans were at 21% overall increased risk of having experienced mental ill-health compared with matched non-veterans, whilst Goodwin et al.(2) showed that serving personnel had more than double the odds of common mental disorders compared with a general population sample. In our 2016 paper we showed that the risk in veterans is highest in those with the shortest service; Early Service Leavers (ESL) were at 51% increased risk, whilst those with more than 9 years’ service were at no greater risk than the comparison population. ESL who did not complete training, and who could not have deployed operationally, had the highest risk; it is likely that their mental health outcomes (including PTSD) arose predominantly from pre-service vulnerabilities. In our new study, we showed that junior entrants were less likely to be ESL (a finding supported by a House of Commons Written Answer on length of service of junior...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    The contributors are the authors of the original article, responding to the points raised in the Rapid Reponse by Cooper et al.
  • Published on:
    Enlistment of under-18s: Abiding concerns
    • Charlotte Cooper, Researcher Child Rights International Network
    • Other Contributors:
      • David Gee, Researcher
      • David McCoy, Professor of Global Public Health

    Dear Editor

    Dr. Bergman and colleagues’ retrospective cohort study of armed forces veterans in Scotland concluded that their study ‘provides no evidence to support the assertion that early entry to military service is associated with adverse long-term mental health outcomes’ and that concerns about early enlistment are ‘misplaced’ (p. 5).

    This conclusion is justified on the grounds that junior entrants into the armed forces (below the age of 17.5) were found to have had a lower risk of developing a severe mental health disorder when compared to those recruited between the ages of 17.5 and 19; or between the ages of 20 and 24.

    However, all veterans, including those who joined as junior entrants, were significantly more likely to develop mental disorders (especially PTSD) when compared to matched non-veterans. In addition, for the cohort of veterans born between 1975 and 1984, the data suggests that junior entrants have a higher risk of presenting with mental health disorders when compared to older recruits, although this is not statistically significant (Table 1). This cohort is important because it is associated with the multiple major combat deployments to Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

    For these reasons, while modern day junior entrants to the armed forces in the UK are better protected when compared to ‘child soldiers’ in other countries, or to junior entrants from previous eras, concerns about their vulnerability to mental illness are...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.