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Violence in Army personnel returning from combat

Posted on 26/07/2012

Research from King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) finds that 12.6% of UK military personnel were violent on return home from deployment in Iraq. 

The study, published in the August issue of Psychological Medicine, found that violence on homecoming was associated with experiences of combat and trauma during deployment. 

Dr Deirdre MacManus, forensic psychiatrist and clinical lecturer at King’s College London’s KCMHR, who was the lead author of the study, says: ‘Army personnel returning home often find it difficult to adapt to civilian life after deployment, and there have been reports of soldiers not being able to readapt certain behaviours that are helpful in a combat situation but not so helpful back in civilian life. 

'We found that nearly 13% of soldiers were violent in the weeks following their return home from deployment in Iraq. Violence was more common amongst those who showed aggressive tendencies before joining the Army, but even when we took that into account, there was still a strong link between exposure to combat and traumatic events during deployment and violence on return home.’

The study found that in the weeks after returning home, 12.6% of Army personnel reported being violent. Those who reported antisocial behaviour before joining the Army were 3.6 times more likely to be violent on their return home. But, after eliminating the influence of pre-enlistment antisocial behaviour, socio-demographics and military factors, violence on homecoming was still strongly associated with being deployed in a combat role (2 times more likely to be violent on return home) or having experienced multiple traumatic events on deployment (3.7 times more likely if experienced 4 or more traumatic events on deployment). 

Army personnel who experienced mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were 4.8 times more likely to report violence on homecoming, and those who reported alcohol misuse were 3.1 times more likely to report violence on homecoming. 

The study followed 4,928 UK Armed Forces personnel who had been deployed in Iraq in 2003. Data was collected by questionnaire and included information on deployment experiences, socio-demographic and military characteristics, pre-enlistment antisocial behaviour, post-deployment mental health outcomes and a self-reported measure of physical violence in the weeks following their return home. 

Dr MacManus adds: ‘These results are part of the first phase of the study. We are continuing to follow this group and are currently linking their data with that of official Ministry of Justice conviction records. This will provide much needed information on the different types of offending over the life course of the military personnel in the study.’

Dr MacManus is funded by the Medical Research Council. This study was funded by the UK Ministry of Defence. 

The research is featured on File on 4 on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 24th July at 8pm and Sunday 29th July at 5pm. For more information, please see the BBC website

For full paper: MacManus, D. et al. ‘Violent behaviour in UK military personnel returning home after deployment’, Psychological Medicine, doi:10.1017/S0033291711002327 

For further information, please contact Seil Collins, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, email: or tel: 0207 848 5377

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