New framework developed by Northumbria University to help prevent suicide among Veterans and serving personnel

March 20, 2024

Launched today, a new report from The Northern Hub for Veterans and Military Families Research at Northumbria University, has identified new approaches which may help prevent suicide.

The findings come from the report ‘One is too Many: A Conceptual Framework for Safety Planning within Service Delivery for Veterans and their Families’, a project funded with a grant from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust’s One Is Too Many programme.

One Is Too Many

Part of the Veterans’ Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund, the One is Too Many programme awarded grants of up to £300,000 to two-year projects aiming to reduce suicide risks within vulnerable Veterans in a co-ordinated and targeted way.

The Trust awarded £2,135,137 to nine projects across the UK, to organisations who have experience in working with individuals who are at increased risk of suicide.

In partnership with Northumbria University, the Baton received £299,894 to work in partnership with Service families who have been bereaved by suicide. They have co-produced a foundation of evidence and a model of safety to support other grant holders to develop their services and integrate them with statutory healthcare across the UK.

Co-production improving care provision

As well as in-depth interviews with serving military and Veteran’s families bereaved by suicide, contributors to the new research included representatives from the health and social care sector, statutory agencies, third sector organisations, politicians, retired military personnel, funding agencies, and other critical stakeholders.

The research found three core elements for improving care provision:

  1. A person-centred care approach.
  2. The need for a designated individual within the service provider to act as a single point of contact for the Veteran and their family.
  3. A centralised care service that would provide holistic support for the Veteran and their family.
Giving bereaved families a voice

During the project, interviews with families highlighted similar stories of being excluded and disconnected from support systems. Director of The Northern Hub for Veterans and Military Families Research, and the report’s lead author, Professor Matthew Kiernan explains: “These interviews identified critical problems with care delivery in the families’ stories. Families strongly felt that they were not being heard, understood, valued, cared for, nor sufficiently empowered to be any part of care provision in terms preventing the loss of their loved one”.

“Many of them witnessed first-hand the slow decline of their loved one’s wellbeing – and felt helpless, and powerless in preventing what they saw as an inevitable outcome. Families’ experiences were that of passive care, often disjointed, uncoordinated, with frequent deficits in understanding and expected levels of compassion and active engagement”.

“As we move forward it is imperative that vital lessons are learnt here, and it is essential that families play a key role in their loved ones’ care provision.”

Researchers acknowledged the pressurised conditions that health service workers are under, with the study identifying evidence of compassion fatigue – a complex consequence of the impact of helping others who have experienced stress or trauma.

Self-assessment toolkit

This is why the team at Northumbria have produced a toolkit as a self-assessment tool that will support the NHS, military charities and wider government departments in creating a safe environment which is focused on training and education, improving services, strengthening resources, enhancing protective factors, and challenging stigma with both the serving military/ Veterans and their families at the centre of care and intervention.

Dr Paul Watson, Assistant Director of the Northern Hub for Veterans and Military Families Research, said: “Clearly, there is insufficient understanding within the existing care provision around the journey towards suicide, and what systems and procedures need to be in place to identify, understand, and prevent death by suicide in this important population and beyond”.

“Promoting better levels of education and training is essential moving forwards.”

An Office for Veterans’ Affairs spokesperson said: “Every Veteran suicide is a tragedy. We welcome this research by Northumbria University, and will review it as part of our continued work to ensure Veterans across the UK can access the right support.

“As part of our commitment to support Veterans, Op COURAGE, our bespoke mental health pathway for Veterans in England, is backed by over £21 million a year investment, which has seen over 35,000 referrals since it started.”

One Is Too Many webinar

The Trust is hosting a One Is Too Many webinar with Northumbria University and The Baton, on Wednesday 20 March, to launch the report, One is too Many: A Conceptual Framework for Safety Planning within Service Delivery for Veterans and their Families. A recording from the webinar will be available shortly after the event and the report will also be available on our website, here.

Find out more

There is a whole host of information about the One Is Too Many programme available across our website and Knowledge Network. Simply type ‘One Is Too Many’ into our search bar for more details.