Breaking research

Depression and binge-drinking more common among military partners

*Reposted with permission from King’s College London

Peer-reviewed / Observational Study / People*

New research from King’s College London suggests that depression and binge-drinking are more common among the female partners of UK military personnel than among comparable women outside the military community.

Researchers from the King’s Centre for Military Health Research at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) collected data from 405 women in military families with at least one child, representing around a third of the military population.

The researchers used a screening tool for depression, rather than a diagnosis from a psychiatrist, and women reporting frequent symptoms were considered to have probable depression. Drinking behaviours were also recorded through a self-reported screening tool.

  • 7% of military partners met criteria for probable depression, compared to 3% of women from the general population
  • 7% of military partners reported episodes of weekly, daily or almost daily binge-drinking, compared to 8.9% from the general population

Overall, military partners reported consuming alcohol less frequently than women in the general population but reported binge-drinking more often. Binge-drinking was significantly higher when families were separated for more than 2 months due to deployment. After controlling for other factors linked to poor alcohol behaviours, the researchers found military partners were twice as likely to binge-drink as women in the general population.

Military families experience various unique challenges, such as frequently moving location and the stress and separation caused by deployment. The researchers say binge-drinking may reflect poor coping strategies used by military partners during the long absences of serving personnel from the family home.

Lead researcher Dr Rachael Gribble from the IoPPN says: ‘While the majority of families cope well with the added pressures of military life, the additional challenges faced by military families may explain the additional mental health needs and higher rates of binge-drinking we found among military partners. More research is needed to help find out more about what contributes to depression and problematic drinking in this population.’

The researchers say that binge-drinking represents an important public health issue for the military community. They urge development of campaigns to reduce alcohol use in military families, suggesting that programmes which successfully tackle dangerous drinking among Service personnel could be extended to their partners.

Senior researcher Professor Nicola Fear from the IoPPN says: ‘Our results indicate that healthcare professionals should be attuned to the impact military life can have on the mental health and wellbeing of family members. There are lots of support options available for military families out there, but these are not always easily accessible.’

This research was published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Army Families Federation. It is the first UK-based study to look at the mental health and well-being of women in relationships with members of the UK Armed Forces.

A spokesperson for the Army Families Federation, the independent voice of Army families, said: ‘Isolation, separation and mobility can all impact on Service families’ mental health and emotional wellbeing.  Research in these areas helps organisations working with Service families to better understand how they can be supported. We welcome the conclusion of this research by King’s College London that available support could be better signposted for military partners.’



‘Mental health outcomes and alcohol consumption among UK military spouses/partners: a comparison with women in the general population’ by Gribble et al, European Journal of Psychotraumatology, DOI: 10.1080/20008198.2019.1654781

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For interviews or any further media information please contact: Robin Bisson, Senior Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, / +44 20 7848 5377 / +44 7718 697176.

*The labels have been added to this press release as part of a project run by the Academy of Medical Sciences seeking to improve the communication of evidence. For more information, please see:

About King’s College London and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

King’s College London is one of the top 10 UK universities in the world (QS World University Rankings, 2018/19) and among the oldest in England. King’s has more than 31,000 students (including more than 12,800 postgraduates) from some 150 countries worldwide, and some 8,500 staff.

The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London is the premier centre for mental health and related neurosciences research in Europe. It produces more highly cited publications in psychiatry and mental health than any other university in the world (Scopus, 2016), with 21 of the most highly cited scientists in this field. World-leading research from the IoPPN has made, and continues to make, an impact on how we understand, prevent and treat mental illness and other conditions that affect the brain.

About the Economic and Social Research Council

  • The ESRC is part of UK Research and Innovation, a new organisation that brings together the UK’s seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England to maximise the contribution of each council and create the best environment for research and innovation to flourish. The vision is to ensure the UK maintains its world-leading position in research and innovation.
  • The ESRC is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policy-makers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective.
  • UK Research and Innovation is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.