Suicide among Falkland war veterans

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f3204 (Published 20 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3204
  1. J Holmes, medical student1,
  2. N T Fear, reader in epidemiology2,
  3. K Harrison, head of Defence Statistics (Health)3,
  4. J Sharpley, defence consultant adviser in psychiatry4,
  5. S Wessely, chair of psychological medicine2
  1. 1King’s School of Medicine, King’s College London, London, UK
  2. 2King’s Centre for Military Health Research, King’s College London, London, UK
  3. 3Ministry of Defence (MOD) Defence Statistics (Health), MOD Abbey Wood North, Bristol, UK
  4. 4Defence Medical Services, Ministry of Defence, Department of Community Mental Health, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth PO1 3LT, UK
  1. simon.wessely{at}kcl.ac.uk

Responses should be based on sound statistics not misleading sound bites

The media sound bite, “more Falklands veterans have taken their own life than were killed in the war” has been in common use for about a decade. A recent report from the Ministry of Defence Defence Statistics (Health) has shown it to be incorrect—95 suicides have been recorded among Falklands veterans, whereas 237 deaths among UK Armed Forces personnel occurred during the campaign.1 The report also found no overall increase in the suicide rate of Falklands veterans compared with the general population of the United Kingdom. So where did this false statistic come from, and why was it so misleading?

The claim that more Falklands war veterans have committed suicide than were killed in action was first made in 2002, the 20th anniversary of the war. A report in the Mail on Sunday gave a figure of 264 suicides compared with the accepted figure of 237 UK military personnel killed in action (plus 18 deaths among coalition forces).2 The source was reported as the South Atlantic Medal Association, the principal group for UK Falkland veterans, although the association denied this. Only six months earlier the Guardian had reported a figure of around 100 suicides among Falkland veterans.3

However, the sound bite became ubiquitous, with the figure of 264 suicides appearing consistently over …

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