National Centre of Excellence for Military Mental Health

11 September 2020

New research, conducted by Kings College London and the University of Liverpool, shows that military serving and ex-serving personnel with a self-reported mental health problem are more likely to have an inpatient hospital admission for a physical non-communicable disease (NCD) compared to those without.

Since the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the short-term focus of military healthcare research has been on the consequences of deployment for mental health and on those wounded or injured in combat. However, there has been less focus on the longer term physical and mental health consequences, and just as importantly, the links between these.

The researchers aimed to determine the most common physical conditions requiring a hospital admission in UK military personnel and whether they were more common in personnel with a mental health condition, and in smokers, compared to those without a mental health problem and non-smokers, respectively.

As part of the study the researchers examined data from the electronic healthcare records (from England, Wales and Scotland) of 8602 serving and ex-serving military personnel which were linked to the King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) cohort study, a large ongoing study of the health and wellbeing of the UK military.

Specifically, the researchers examined the number and type of physical NCDs, a disease that is not transmissible directly from one person to another, recorded that required a hospital admission and how these health conditions were linked with self-reports of mental health and smoking.

Results

The researchers found that the most common NCDs requiring a hospital admission were gastrointestinal disorders, hypertension, prostrate, genitourinary and joint disorders. Requiring a hospital admission for a NCD was significantly higher in those with a common mental disorder (such as depression or generalised anxiety) and post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to those without the disorder, and in current smokers compared to non-smokers.

Military personnel with a mental health problem are more likely to have an inpatient hospital admission for NCDs compared to those without, evidencing the clear links between physical and mental health in this population.

Strong evidence

Lead author, Dr Laura Goodwin, University of Liverpool, said: “These results provide strong evidence that military personnel with a mental health problem are at greater risk of developing future physical health problems, compared to personnel without a mental health problem.”

Professor Nicola Fear from the King’s Centre for Military Health Research, King’s College London, said: “This work highlights the priority to provide good mental healthcare and quick access to these services for serving and ex-serving personnel, to reduce the impact on their longer-term physical health.”

The full paper, entitled ‘Hospital admissions for non-communicable disease in the UK military and associations with alcohol use and mental health: A data linkage study’, can be found here.

This work was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Goodwin, L., Leightley, D., Chui, Z.E. et al. Hospital admissions for non-communicable disease in the UK military and associations with alcohol use and mental health: a data linkage study. BMC Public Health 20, 1236 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-09300-5

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