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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
    • 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.