Current Funded Research Projects
29 March, 2022
UNDERSTANDING 'NEGATIVE TRANSITIONING' IN BRITISH EX-SERVICE PERSONNEL
The report, Understanding ‘Negative Transitioning’ in British Ex-Service Personnel, was conducted by a research team from the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute at Queen’s University Belfast led by Professor John Brewer.
This research, spread over three years, and funded by the Forces in Mind Trust, addressed three measures of negative transitioning back to civilian life, mental ill-health, imprisonment, and homelessness, using a sample of 323 respondents from across the UK, with two extended case studies of veteran prisoners and ex-prisoners in Scotland and homeless veterans in Birmingham. Not many veterans transition this badly but those that do gain considerable media and public attention, which overshadows the many veterans who transition normally.
The research design was qualitative, capturing, for the first time, the lived experiences of veterans and their families in their own words, as well as the perspective of support providers. This research has not been done before in such depth and scale. The sample breaks down into: Mental health 129, Prisoner 42, Homeless 49, Family members 26, and Stakeholders 77. The sample is unusually large for a qualitative research design and adds weight to the findings. The sample was biased, however, towards men (217) and veterans from the British Army (207).
The factors that differentiate this specific group of veterans from more successful transitioners are complex, and include the multiple problems they encounter, their lack of psychological resilience in dealing with them and the economic means to withstand them, their difficulties in accessing support because of the severity of their transition problems, and their ambivalence in taking back control of their lives with associated dependency.
Negative transition is not explained solely by veterans’ operational experiences in theatres of war. Multiple factors explain negative transitioning: pre-Service experiences, age of enrolment, expectations of service, the rank reached, capability to make decisions and use personal initiative, over-institutionalisation in military culture, the personal responsibility invested by veterans in taking back control of their lives, pressures on relationships and family units, resilience in dealing with routine civilian life crises around work, finances and relationships, and the effectiveness of veteran support. It particularly affects low rank veterans. Low rank veterans compound their negative transitioning by being the least likely to seek early support. Low rank veterans are more likely to have historic pre-Service issues and problems, with a career in the Services forming a kind of escape, and negative transitioning is more likely to occur when they return to the same pre-Service conditions. The Armed Forces can help in positively transforming a person’s life but they little prepare individuals for dealing with pre-Service and in-Service experiences once they leave. Negative transitioning is related to a failure to nurture the emotional, cultural and social skills needed by recruits from difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds to ensure that the life ‘they escaped from’ is not the one to which they return.
A factor in all forms of negative transitioning was the inability of respondents to break the ties with the military as a result of over-institutionalisation in military culture, the maintenance of a military-first identity in civilian life, and the unwillingness to move out of the ‘military bubble’, with its narrow notions of trust and more limited social networks.
Negative transitioning predisposes a very critical view of the support system, which is often unfair but sometimes deserved. Respondents mostly felt the support system failed to meet the needs of the most needy, in preference for the provision of care for veterans thought to be ‘easier’ to deal with because they present with less complex and interwoven problems. There was, however, much greater appreciation for the work of locally based support networks.
The Report and a series of recommendations for statutory and voluntary organisations, is available at:
Professor John D Brewer and Dr Stephen Herron, The Senator George J. Mitchell Institute