More information about text formats
Margaret Jones and colleagues’ study of armed forces personnel concluded that, for the study cohort as a whole, those who had joined up under the age of 17.5 years (‘junior entrants’) were no more likely than those who enlisted at older ages to report symptoms of mental health disorders. However, the study also found that junior entrants who had enlisted since 2003 showed significantly higher rates of alcohol misuse, somatic symptoms, and a lifetime history of self-harm, relative to older recruits. The study’s data further suggests that PTSD and common mental disorders may also be more prevalent among younger enlistees since 2003, although this is not statistically significant.
In recent decades, protections for armed forces recruits who are legally children have improved, including a legal prohibition on deployment to zones since 2002. Despite these developments, this study’s findings indicate continuing reason to be concerned about the impact of early enlistment on long-term mental health. It could be relevant that, as this study has shown, once junior entrants turn 18 and may be deployed, they are more likely to be in a combat role such as the frontline infantry.
Furthermore, the study sample may not reflect the relevant population accurately. Comparing Table 1 with UK armed forces quarterly personnel statistics,(1) higher-ranked personnel appear to be over-represented in the study sample, while those with the lowest ranks are under-repr...
Furthermore, the study sample may not reflect the relevant population accurately. Comparing Table 1 with UK armed forces quarterly personnel statistics,(1) higher-ranked personnel appear to be over-represented in the study sample, while those with the lowest ranks are under-represented. Also, the average career length in the sample is longer than a typical army career indicated by official data.(2) Hence the sample appears to be skewed towards long-career, well-promoted personnel. This could matter to the study’s conclusions, since junior entrants are more likely than older recruits to drop out of initial army training,(3) and early dropout is associated with mental health disorders.(4)
(1) Ministry of Defence, ‘Excel tables to UK armed forces quarterly service personnel statistics: 1 January 2021’ (Table 11b), 2021, https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/quarterly-service-personnel-sta....
(2) Ministry of Defence, ‘Army: Recruitment’ (Written answer to parliamentary question 127990), 2018, https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2018....
(3) For details, refer to House of Commons Defence Committee, ‘Written evidence submitted by Child Rights International Network to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill’, 2021, https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/23832/pdf/, paragraphs 5.1 and 9.1.
(4) Buckman, J. E., Forbes, H. J., Clayton, T., et al., (2013, June). ‘Early Service leavers: a study of the factors associated with premature separation from the UK Armed Forces and the mental health of those that leave early’. European Journal of Public Health (Early EPub release 25 April 2012), 23(3), 410-415.