Almost one million people commit suicide every year and a significant proportion of these deaths are serving personnel and veterans of Armed Forces. The mental health of serving and veteran soldiers is topical, particularly as individual psychological and societal struggles often result in suicide. In 2018, in the United States 321 serving men and women, plus an estimated 20 veterans per day, committed suicide.
Similar findings have been reported in France, Germany, Australia, and Britain. In 2018, the Sunday Times reported that 56 British veterans and serving personnel had committed suicide since January. In 2004, suicides at Deepcut Barracks Camberley raised questions over the psychological impact of military indoctrination and potential bullying.
Following the acknowledgement of 274 military suicides since 2003, the British Government was galvanised to take holistic and trauma-informed preventative measures by supporting the mental wellbeing of soldiers and veterans.
Still, little is known about the history of British military suicide between 1914-2018. During the First World War, suicide cases were determined as actions of the ‘temporarily insane’, when reported at all.
During the Second World War, suicides remained classified as mental illness whilst reporting was still sporadic. In the later 20th-century, rumour mills raised public concerns and moral panics that service suicides outweighed combat loses during wars in Vietnam, Falklands, and the Gulf. These rumours proved prognostic as suicide rates from 2000 in veterans and serving personnel rose while official published figures remain questionable. Military-related suicide and mental illness remain opaque as questions over service personnel mental health, individual agency, and institutional conditioning are unanswered.
It is the focus of my research, through examinations of official statistics and the individual experiences of veterans and service personnel, to investigate the links between mental health, psychological care, institutional conditioning, and suicide within the British Military.
As the moment my research remains in the early stages. I have given many talks about military suicide in the 19th and 20th century and published a chapter titled ‘Silent Voices: Soldier Suicide in The First World War’. However this just the start. I am currently constructing the first comprehensive database of British Military Suicides, whilst also painstaking researching each case to attempt to understand the occurrence, motivation, method, and reaction to the deaths of service personnel which remain most absent from the current historiography.
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