The King’s Centre for Military Health Research launches Fourth Phase in Military Health and Wellbeing Study

The King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) is the leading independent civilian UK centre of excellence for military health research at King’s College London. In 2003, they set up the Health and Wellbeing Study investigating the health and wellbeing of the UK Armed Forces (UKAF) who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan era of deployments. They are now launching the fourth phase of their long-term study funded by the Office for Veterans’ Affairs.

There have been three phases between 2004-2006, 2007-2009, and 2014-2016 (previously funded by the Ministry of Defence). During 2020, they also carried out an extra wave of the study investigating the experiences of ex-service personnel (veterans) during the Covid-19 pandemic, called Veterans-Check Study.

KCMHR is asking Armed Forces charities if they would publicise the new phase of the study through their membership networks to help them reach their participant group, encourage participation and to improve knowledge of the study with a wider audience. KCMHR welcomes partnerships and funding to conduct more projects within the cohort study, as well as encouraging organisations to use the cohort findings to inform their policies and provision to support.

Please find more information about Phase Four on their website.

Why is the study important and how can the results be used?

  • The results of the study will help inform government and Armed Forces charities/voluntary sector policies to ensure that both serving personnel and veterans get the support they need.
  • The new results will also provide clinicians with up-to-date trends and changes in UKAF and veterans’ current health. This will allow services to understand where current targeting is needed, including any changes since the 2014/6 findings.
  • The cohorts’ new topics (such as the impact of withdrawal from Afghanistan) will provide knowledge about recent events which may affect the health and wellbeing of UKAF and ex-service personnel.
  • Findings will provide robust evidence to combat any negative myths surrounding the impact of service.

The impact the KCMHR Health and Wellbeing Cohort Study has already had

  • The Health and Wellbeing Study has already contributed to changes in policy regarding current and former personnel. The cohort data aided the formulation of NHS TILS service and Complex Treatment Services (now known as Op Courage) which seek to increase access and treatment to appropriate mental health services for UKAF personnel approaching discharge and veterans with mental health difficulties.
  • The study has also been key to Armed Forces charities developing and targeting their support services. Combat Stress utilised the cohort data to develop its PTSD services and stated that the results “were vital for service planning and keeping the focus on PTSD”. The Royal British Legion used the cohort evidence in their policy and campaigning, reporting that the study data has been “invaluable” to them.
  • KCMHR has also been able to collaborate with other organisations utilising the cohort to create new qualitative investigations and data linkages to make the cohort much more than the sum of its parts. These studies have ranged from investigating help-seeking in veterans, to criminal justice outcomes, to experiences of transition.
  • Hence KCMHR would also aim for the cohort to be utilised and extended for positive impact in the coming phase to improve outcomes for the Armed Forces community. Please follow this link to see more KCMHR publications.

Previous findings

The cohort examines a wide range of issues relevant to the UKAF, including their experiences of leaving the military and transitioning to civilian life. The main topics explored in the study include common mental disorders (CMD), PTSD and alcohol misuse.

Previous findings show the rate of CMD has been between 20%-22% and has remained stable from 2004/06 to 2014/16. PTSD rates have increased since the beginning of the cohort from 4% to 6%. This compares to a rate of 4.4% within the civilian population. Ex-service personnel had significantly higher levels of probable PTSD compared to serving personnel (7% v 5%). They also found ex-service personnel who deployed in a combat role had significantly higher rates of probable PTSD and CMD which rose to 17% and 31%. Potentially harmful alcohol misuse has declined steadily from 15% in 2004/06 to 10% in 2014/16. However, these levels remain 2-3 times higher compared to equivalent general population groups.

What is Phase Four all about?

KCMHR are aiming to reach approximately 8,500 previous participants who took part in phase 3 (2014/16). The study is projected to include approximately 25% current serving personnel and 75% ex-service personnel. The data collection phase of the study will run until approximately July 2023, with initial findings published in early 2024.

KCMHR are asking many of the same health and wellbeing topics as they have done in previous phases so they will be able to see changes over time. Several new research topics have been added for the current phase of the study, including gambling, drug use, loneliness, cognitive decline as a precursor to dementia, the impact of Afghanistan withdrawal and COVID-19 experiences.

How can you support KCMHR?

Please could you share information about this phase to encourage participation by serving and ex-serving personnel who previously participated in the cohort study in 2014-2016 through means like social media (e.g., retweet) or your membership networks, to support KCMHR’s work by gaining the best response rates and having the widest impact possible.

Please find more information about Phase Four on their website. KCMHR encourages collaborations with this data and the centre. You are welcome to contact them with proposals for collaborative research, but please note they do not make this data publicly available to protect the confidentiality and security of individual cohort members.

For study updates and other work, please follow @kcmhr on Twitter and look at their most recent blogs, or to get in touch with the Health and Wellbeing Study Research team please email kcmhr-cohort@kcl.ac.uk.

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Afghanistan support

In light of recent events in Afghanistan, please find information and support resources here