50 Troops Suicide After Iraq, Afghan Tours
In an indication of the toll the conflicts may have taken on the mental health of servicemen and women, the data reveals that eight took their own lives during a deployment itself, while the other 42 killed themselves at some point afterwards.
More than half of those who took their lives later – 23 of the 42 – committed suicide on Ministry of Defence (MoD) property, mainly in the UK.
The figures, released to the Daily Telegraph under Freedom of Information legislation, show that six British forces members killed themselves while serving in Iraq and two did so while serving in Afghanistan.
The Mental Health Foundation said young veterans were twice as likely to take their own life as their peers, and argued more help could be provided to them.
Simon Lawton-Smith, head of policy, said: “Combat puts great pressures on our fighting forces and this can have significant psychological impact both at the time and in the days, months and years following.
“While most members of the forces re-join civilian life successfully, a significant number will struggle.
“It’s not just a question of post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans can also have high levels of depression and a dependence on alcohol, which exacerbates their mental health problems.”
But the Ministry of Defence said no link had been found between operations and suicide in the UK Armed Forces.
A spokesman said: “Overall, suicide rates are lower in the Armed Forces than in the civilian population.
“The mental health of our Service personnel is a top priority. That is why this Government has committed £7.2m to improving services. We have robust systems in place, at home and on operations, to help those that need support.
The data shows that between 2001, when operations were launched in Afghanistan, and 2011, the latest year for which information is available, there have been 50 coroner confirmed suicides and open verdicts among serving members of the UK regular Armed Forces who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Open verdict deaths are similar to suicides except that the person’s intention to take their life has not been sufficiently proven to the coroner.
The true figure could be significantly higher as verdicts on a further 11 deaths thought to be possible suicides were still pending at the time the figures were released.
Since the data was compiled, Captain James Townley, from the Corps of Royal Engineers, killed himself in Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, a day before his 30th birthday.