The mental health of the UK Armed Forces and veterans – Medact submission to Defence Select Committee

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The UK continues to recruit under-18s to the Armed Forces despite grave concerns and evidence pointing toward disproportionate psychological and physical harm. It is the only country in the EU and in NATO to recruit 16-year-olds to the military, and has ignored calls for raising the age of recruitment by health professionals, civil society and even the UN and EU.

Medact recently submitted evidence to the Defence Select Committee inquiry into the mental health of Armed Forces and veterans. The submission highlighted our key concerns regarding the psychological and developmental impacts of the recruitment of those under the age of 18 to the Armed Forces, summarised below:

  1. Psychologists characterise adolescence as a ‘window of vulnerability’. In mid-adolescence, minors are less able than adults to make an informed choice about a military career, and are more susceptible to long-term impacts of high-stress environments.
  2. Research has shown that mental health and behaviour problems are prevalent in the British armed forces, particularly the army, and are proportionally greater for those who enlist in the youngest age group.
  3. The prohibition on deploying minors on operations insufficiently safeguards them from mental health effects of early military service. Evidence shows elevated levels of anger, anxiety and depression even in young personnel in training who have not yet been deployed.
  4. Research clearly shows an association between childhood adversity and long-term susceptibility to stress, as well as the psychiatrically toxic effect of additional stressful experiences in adolescence. Minors from disadvantaged backgrounds are the most at risk from premature military service. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are most affected by military work; this group is particularly vulnerable to the stress of initial training and, later, to the stress of warfare in the context of developing PTSD.

Considering this evidence and the Ministry of Defence’s duty to safeguard the well-being of vulnerable young people, we call on the UK government to end its practice of recruiting under-18s to the military.

Medact submission to Defence Select Committee inquiry into the mental health of Armed Forces and veterans (PDF)