Research spotlight

Findings from the UK Veterans Family Study: Psychological health, wellbeing, and social support among ex-Service personnel, their partners, and adult children

The final report from the UK Veterans family study was recently released and provides crucial insight into the lives of ex-Service personnel and their families, and how they are impacted after leaving Service.

Current estimates indicate 7.0% (1.75 million) of all households in England and Wales contain at least one person who has previously Served in the UK Armed Forces. While research has shown how Service life can impact Service personnel and their families, and the experiences of ex-Service personnel, little is known about the experiences of families after leaving Service. The research that has been undertaken has tended to focus on the partners of US ex-Service personnel with PTSD, especially those receiving clinical support, with very little on adult children of ex-Service personnel .

To help address this gap, researchers at the King’s Centre for Military Health Research, King’s College London, and the Research Centre for Stress, Trauma & Related Conditions (STARC), Queen’s University Belfast, along with colleagues from Combat Stress, Anglia Ruskin University, Glasgow Caledonian University, and Cardiff University/Veterans’ NHS Wales, came together to establish the UK Veterans Family Study (UKVFS). Funding was kindly provided by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT). The UKVFS aimed to:

  1. Investigate the health and wellbeing of ex-Service personnel, their partners, and their adult children across the four nations of the UK;
  2. Identify factors that support or challenge ex-Service personnel, family health and wellbeing, and;
  3. Examine current and future support needs, help-seeking, and barriers to care.

Methods and key findings

The UKVFS used a mixture of survey data to examine the psychological health and wellbeing of 1,904 ex-Service personnel, 475 partners, and 240 adult children of ex-Service personnel, alongside interviews with partners (n=37), adult children (n=34) and service providers (n=12). Earlier reports from UKVFS include a review of the literature and mapping and understanding support needs.

Overall, it was found that most families of ex-Service personnel appeared to have good psychological health and wellbeing after military Service. There were, however, some areas in which additional support may be needed:

  • While caution is needed given low numbers, a small number of ex-Service personnel, their partners, and their adult children may need additional support with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and alcohol misuse.
  • Comparisons between nations found significantly higher rates of PTSD and loneliness among ex-Service personnel from Northern Ireland, higher rates of anxiety in those from Wales, and lower subjective wellbeing scores for those in Wales and Northern Ireland compared to ex-Service personnel in England. No differences were found for partners or adult children by nation.
  • Psychological ‘wellbeing’, perceived social support, and satisfaction with this support were high across all cohorts although loneliness was also high.
  • Participant descriptions of mental health within interviews focused largely on the impact of caring for a Veteran with PTSD. Discussions of alcohol use in the interviews were almost entirely limited to in-Service experiences, with the military community seen as protective against substance use by young people.
  • Some families reported issues with managing finances during Service which continued into post-Service life due to poor financial literacy. Financial issues were particularly pertinent when ex-Service personnel were discharged unexpectedly, either for medical, administrative, disciplinary, or other reasons, as there often wasn’t time to plan or manage post-Service life.
  • While some family members described experiencing challenges to daily family life due to military Service and transition, they also reported feeling like part of a community which provided social, emotional, and practical support before and after transition from Service.
  • Key risk factors for poorer psychosocial health and wellbeing among the families of ex-Service personnel included: not being in a relationship, discharge from military Service for reasons other than end of Service contract, lower rank on discharge and working in lower skilled civilian occupations.
  • Factors associated with better psychological health and higher wellbeing included being older, doing well financially, and having served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) – this is possibly due to differences in education, income, and social class across different Service branches.


The report raises important recommendations for research, policy, and practice, which were presented and discussed at events with stakeholders in each of the four devolved nations. Noted proposals include:

  • Consistent definitions of military and ex-Service family members within and across public services including the NHS.
  • Development of alternative ways of identifying and connecting services for families of ex-Service personnel.
  • A call for research, policy, and services to move towards focusing on family member health and wellbeing, rather than merely as a potential support for an ex-Service family member.

The findings from this report have the potential to provide useful guidance for ongoing research, policy, and practice in relation to support and understanding of the psychological health and wellbeing experiences of the families of ex-Service personnel in the UK and open new avenues in these areas for the future. Outputs are ongoing, such as exploration of veteran partner identity, and will be available via

Thank you to Dr Rachael Gribble for working with us to produce this summary of the UK Veteran Families research.

Additional sources

  1. Gribble, R., Spikol, E., Parkes, S., Dighton, G., Palmer, L., McShane, T., Armour, C., & Fear, NT. The UK Veterans Family Study: Psychological health, wellbeing, and social support among UK veteran families (2024).
  2. Armour, C., Spikol, E., McGlinchey, E., Gribble, R., Fear., NT., Murphy, D. Identifying psychological outcomes in families of Five Eyes alliance armed forces Veterans: A systematic review (2022). Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health; 8 (1), 7-27;
  3. Gillin, N., McShane, T., Gribble, R., Palmer, L., Armour, C., Fear, NT., Fossey, M. Understanding and mapping the psychosocial wellbeing support needs of Veteran family members across the UK: a multi-methods study (2023).
  4. Who am I? A qualitative exploration of the identities of spouses/partners of UK Armed Forces Veterans (2024). Spikol, E., McGlinchey, E., Fear, N., Armour, C., & Gribble, R. Journal of Military, Veteran, and Family Health;org/10.3138/jmvfh-2023-0068.

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