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The surprising reality of British Armed Forces Fatalities and the growing concern of suicide rates: a report citing AOAV data in the Express

The Daily Express has recently published a report “Disease, accidents, suicides: 78 years of military deaths have little to do with combat” citing data from Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) and quoting our Chief Executive Officer. The report highlights a dramatic shift in the causes of death among British military personnel since 1945. While the mortality rate among tri-service personnel (army, navy, and air force) has significantly decreased, a growing concern is the increasing rate of suicide among military ranks.

The report shows that since September 3, 1945, a total of 7,192 UK Armed Forces personnel died in medal-earning operations worldwide. Compared to the losses in World War 1 and 2, this figure is low. Defence spending as a share of GDP has also decreased over the years, from around 7% in 1960 to 2.2% today.

Since 1945, British forces have been involved in 32 theatres of war, either unilaterally or as part of UN or NATO operations. However, the past decade has been the safest since 1945. Data reveals that over the past ten years, there have been 676 deaths of Armed Forces personnel, with only 12 attributable to an enemy. In fact, combat was only the eighth-most likely reason for death, while cancer was the most common.

Despite the overall decrease in mortality rate, the data shows that young men in the British Army have significantly higher rates of suicide. Over the last decade, 131 servicemen, mostly men, took their own lives, making suicide the second-most common cause of death, accounting for 19% of the total. Suicide rates have risen substantially in the past five years, from eight per 100,000 in 2016 to 12 in 2020.

Dr. Iain Overton, Executive Director of AOAV, pointed out that the biggest threat to soldiers in the last two decades has been their own demons (suicidal thoughts) or the widespread use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). AOAV’s research indicates that more British service personnel have killed themselves than have died in combat since 1984.

While technological enhancements and improved health and safety procedures have contributed to the falling annual tally of casualties, mental health improvements have been more difficult to tackle. According to AOAV, discharges from the Armed Forces for mental health concerns rose by 245% in a decade.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) acknowledges the tragedy of suicide in the Armed Forces and is committed to supporting the mental health and well-being of its personnel, offering health and welfare support, tools, mandatory training, and a 24-hour mental health helpline.