Sarah’s manifesto

Raising awareness of the unique challenges Armed Forces children and young people face to mental health and wellbeing

Many children and young people thrive within Armed Forces families within the UK and overseas. The majority of whom develop a strong sense of pride and belong, which will endure throughout their lifetime, and grasp a wide range of experiences to develop positive futures.

However, life in an Armed Forces family can present additional challenges for children and young people, which are not generally experienced by civilian peers, including deployment of loved ones, frequent relocations as well as disrupted education and friendships.

Empirical research within this specific area remains in its infancy, which means the degree of contrast, when comparing the challenges faced to mental health and wellbeing between Armed Forces children and young people and civilian peers, remains fully underdefined.

However, our work at RCET, through education, family support, mental health and wellbeing support, research and policy has clearly shown many of the unique challenges faced by Armed Forces children and young people present a real impact to mental health and wellbeing.

Members of our Youth Participation Programme shared their thoughts with regard to how their mental health and wellbeing can be impacted:

“When someone is deployed then you miss them and it’s hard to concentrate.”  

“Stress on always moving around and keeping up on education so you don’t have any gaps.”

“When your parents go overseas, and you can’t sleep at night.”

“I got to a point of moving where I didn’t see the point in making friends anymore. This really put me down.”

“Depressed when parent is away.”

“Confidence down because new kid all the time – everyone staring at you.”   

Armed Forces children and young people can face unique challenges in accessing mental health support including frequent disruptions and changes with regards to their GP or health provider. Members of our Youth Participation Programme shared with us the issues they have faced when trying to access mental health services:

“The impact of moving on your medical stuff like going to the bottom of the list, delay operations and stuff”. 

“You have to register with a GP near [boarding] school and then re-register near home for holiday times.”

“I couldn’t attend all CAMHS appointments as [boarding] school couldn’t provide travel to all the appointments. CAMHS then discharged me because of the length of time between appointments.” 

In 2018, the Royal Caledonian Education Trust conducted a survey with Armed Forces children and young people. The results raised concerns about the general mental health and wellbeing of the Armed Forces young people:

20%

reported feeling low about every day in the last 6 months. 

24%

reported feeling irritable or bad-tempered about every day in the last 6 months.

28%

reported feeling nervous about every day in the last 6 months.

27%

reported experiencing difficulties getting to sleep about every day in the last 6 months. 

31%

reported never or hardly ever feeling confident in themselves.

Consequently, our fundamental ask of policymakers and practitioners is that Armed Forces children and young people should be recognised as a potentially vulnerable group requiring targeted consideration and action in terms of supporting their mental health and wellbeing.