Read the item below about suicides among young British servicemen returning from Iraq.

Discuss how you could use the ideas of Durkheim and Taylor to explain these cases.

Suicide risk to young British servicemen

Young British servicemen who leave the Armed Forces are two or three times more likely to kill themselves than members of the general population, a unique research study has discovered.

Soldiers aged 24 and younger who have been discharged for two years are the most vulnerable. The dramatic transition from operating in an ordered, disciplined close-knit military family to being free of controls in the civilian world may be partly to blame, the survey concluded.

The investigation of suicides among Service leavers carried out by Manchester University and published yesterday by the Public Library of Science Medicine (PLoS) journal, is the first of its kind. It was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Analytical Services and Advice (DASA).

DASA has only previously published statistics on the number of suicides among serving Armed Forces personnel. They have consistently shown that young soldiers are twice as likely to commit suicide as their peers in the general population. There were three suspected suicides in Iraq between December last year and February, two of them in their 20s. The youngest was Private Ryan Wrathall, 21, of the 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.

The PLoS survey examined 233,803 individuals who had left the Armed Forces between 1996 and 2005, and found that 224 had died by suicide – 163 who had served in the Army, 34 in the Naval Service (Royal Navy and Royal Marines ), and 27 in the RAF.

Although this suicide rate is no greater than that in the general public, the risk of suicide in men aged 24 and younger was “approximately two to three times higher than the risk for the same age groups in the general and serving populations”.

“The risk was greatest in males, those who had served in the Army, those with a short length of service and those of lower ranks,” the PLoS journal said.

Hanging or strangulation (44 per cent) and poisoning (21 per cent) were the most common methods of suicide.

Suicides among servicewomen were very low, the survey found, although there were increased risks in the youngest female age group, 16-19.

The researchers concluded that for a minority the transition to civilian life was extremely difficult. “It may result in social exclusion, homelessness, alcohol misuse, unemployment and poor mental health,” the researchers said.

The study found that there had been “no exploration of the time elapsed since discharge and little consideration of the risk factors for suicide in relation to leaving the military”. Nor had any studies been carried out into how often ex-service personnel had sought help for mental health problems.

The young male ex-servicemen at greatest risk were those who may have been vulnerable before they joined the Armed Forces and had not completed their training. “Young, untrained individuals with short lengths of service were at greatest risk of suicide after discharge,” the survey concluded.

In response, the MoD said these young men left after two years, before completing the full training programme and had, therefore, not been deployed in combat, ruling out the trauma of war as a reason for suicide

The Manchester University study found that military service actually prevented suicide in some individuals. “There is evidence to suggest that serving may have a positive effect on a variety of outcomes such as resilience, employment and socio-economic attainment.”

In contrast, however, a US study of 30,000 individuals who had served in Vietnam found that those who had been injured on more than one occasion were nearly twice as likely to commit suicide as those in the general population.

The researchers in the British study said that preventative strategies to reduce suicides among former young soldiers should include practical and psychological preparation for discharge. The MoD said that a resettlement programme was available for all men and women leaving the Armed Forces, and a new mentoring project had been introduced in which young service personnel were offered advice and guidance as they completed their training course or as they approached discharge.

Michael Evans, The Times; March 2, 2009