Suicide Is(n’t) painless

Many Service leavers face an increased risk of committing suicide. What are the risk factors, and what can be done?


Back in 2005, Falklands veteran and former SAS-member Charles “Nish” Bruce jumped from a plane at 5,000 feet over Oxfordshire – without a parachute. A horrifying punchline was subsequently delivered during the official inquest into his death when Falkland veterans support group the South Atlantic Medal Association revealed that, during the quarter century following the end of hostilities, the number of Falkland veterans who had since committed suicide was greater than the death toll during the Conflict itself.

Mental illness caused by their experiences on duty has been linked with veterans’ alcohol abuse and the large number of veterans entering the wrong end of Britain’s justice system. Last year, research by the University of Manchester’s Centre for Suicide Prevention also suggested another problem – that young men (and to a lesser degree young women) leaving the British Armed Forces are up to three times more likely to take their own lives than their civilian peers. In January, a policy briefing by UK charity the Mental Health Foundation confirmed this, stating that younger veterans were between two and three times more likely to commit suicide than their civilian contemporaries.


Admittedly, when it comes to the greater picture, the Manchester survey found that veterans as a whole were at no greater risk of suicide than the rest of the population, but this is thanks chiefly to veterans in the 30-49 age-group actually having a lower rate of suicide than their civilian peers. Professor Nav Kapur, who led the Manchester research, admitted he is unable to prove why younger veterans have higher rates of suicide than men of the same age in the general population.

He did, however, suggest three possibilities: “One explanation is that those entering military service at a young age are already vulnerable to suicide,” he said, “which would explain why those serving for a relatively short period of time before being discharged were most likely to take their own lives.

“A second explanation is the difficulty a minority of individuals experience making the transition to civilian life,” Professor Kapur added. “However, a third possibility is that exposure to adverse experiences during military service or active deployment played a role in the two to three-fold increase in suicide among young veterans.”


However, research shows that it’s not just post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); many of those most at risk don’t even complete basic training and so have little chance of actual deployment in a war zone.

Simon Lawton-Smith, MHF’s Head of Policy, said: “While most members of the Forces rejoin civilian life successfully, a significant number will struggle. There have been recent initiatives to improve the help offered to these veterans, but these are not widely available and we feel it’s particularly urgent that the support available to young veterans, those with alcohol misuse problems and those at risk of offending are improved.

“We can’t carry on with a situation where young veterans are twice as likely to take their own life than their contemporaries and prisons are full of veterans suffering from depression and PTSD.”


Statistically, the actual numbers are low; of the 233,803 individuals who left the Armed Forces during the Manchester survey period, ‘only’ 224 took their own lives. Yet that is, of course, 224 lost lives; 224 families robbed of a father, brother or son and often left with the guilt of not having been able to help or prevent the death.

Although the MHF has welcomed recent initiatives to expand the mental health support available to veterans, the charity believes there’s a need for a fundamental change of emphasis. “Resettlement packages for veterans returning to civilian life should be based on need, not just length of service,” said the charity’s spokesperson. “Veterans under the age of 24 are at two to three times the risk of suicide than civilians of the same age. Despite this, the full resettlement package for former forces personnel is only available after six years service. The Mental Health of Veterans calls for the Ministry of Defence to consider how support for younger veterans could be enhanced, so that vulnerable young people leaving the forces are properly protected.”

Author Andy McNabb – formerly of the SAS – last year talked of a need for a dedicated stream within the NHS capable of providing the appropriate level of care for veterans affected by PTS maybe a decade after discharge. Professor Kapur admitted that part of the problem could well down to most-at-risk veterans having few contacts with mental health professionals – just 14% of those under 20 had any contact in the year before their deaths, rising to only 20% for under 24s.


Men of all ages can find it difficult to admit that something is wrong, particularly when it comes to mental health which still comes with a lot of cultural baggage long since left behind when it comes to physical illness and injury.

Yet, as is often the case, recognition of a problem is a vital first step in dealing with it, and the MHF research confirmed a need for not relying just on veterans contacting medical support on their own.

“Whatever the explanation for our findings, these individuals may benefit from some form of intervention,” said Professor Kapur. “Initial pre-recruitment interview, medical examination and training are important in ensuring military health but it should be recognised that those discharged at any of these stages may be at higher risk of suicide.”


The Samaritans

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Going for gold

Soldiers and international-level athletes have much in common – focus and dedication are watchwords while attention to detail and a never-say-die attitude goes with the territory! Civvy Street spoke with former RAF PT Instructor – and now Team GB Sit-skier – Sean Rose in the run up to the Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver.


“Preparation couldn’t be going better really – apart from the most recent thing, which was the crash after my win,” Sean Rose told us. You’ve got to hand it to him; that’s confidence and optimism for you. To a recreational skier, a ‘crash’ is usually about tipping over and staggering back up with nothing more hurt than your pride. For a top level sit skier, a crash can be a death defying crunch at up to 80mph!

Sean Rose is one of Britain’s top-rated disabled skiers, and he started 2010 on a high – winning the UK’s first ever World Cup gold medal in Sestriere, Italy, the day before he was selected for the British team competing at the Paralympic Winter Games in


“The whole season has been fantastic,” he said. “I did well last season; I was the first Brit to win World Cup medals but I still felt that I had a lot more to give. I looked at every aspect of the sport, really just ripped everything apart and took it back down to the bare bones: new equipment, new skis, new everything! I really took quite a big decision to change the main equipment. I really just wanted to take the plunge and go for it. I think it’s paid off loads. I turned up in December to some Europa cup races and took four medals and two fourths.”

Sean has an ‘all in’ attitude to his skiing, “Sestriere is a place I love. It’s a pretty scary, fast course that you really just have to commit to 100% or you’re in trouble. I went into the race knowing that I could do it and absolutely nailed it. Suddenly, I had people taking pictures of my sit ski, checking out my compression settings and suspension. It was great because I realised that we were getting up there with the big boys and we were getting them worried.”

There have been set backs, of course – perhaps inevitably, given the way that Sean puts his body on the line. “I went out the next day wanting to do exactly the same thing in the Downhill,” he added. “Came on the final ride, 80 mph, put the ski sideways and high sided – smacked myself into the floor, a few flips and through the crash net. I severely traumatised my lower back and all of my abs and the muscles around my core. A right good kicking! I’ve had lot of intense physio since then and a lot of discomfort and quite a lot of pain.”

On the plus side it’s this kind of hard lesson that Sean can draw on in Vancouver. “I’m not bomb proof,” he admitted. “We all know that at those sorts of speeds we’re living on a knife edge. It can get quite nasty. Luckily it wasn’t anything that’ll keep me out of the Paralympics.”

Having met the whole Sit Ski team Civvy Street realises that they’re as tight as any platoon patrol. Sean agreed: “I get goose bumps when you say that. I’ve played a lot of sports and been in teams all my life but never a team quite like this. There’s a lot of banter; I think that helps and a couple of us are ex-military so we make the banter even worse!”

General Q&A on franchising.


Want to be your own boss, but wary of going it alone? Here’s how business format franchising could be just what you’re looking for.


Business format franchising is when a company (the franchisor) develops a successful trade name, brand and business system which it licences to an individual (the franchisee) who uses it to build up a successful business, usually operating in a defined geographical area. It’s a win-win scenario; the franchisor expands their brand using other people’s money, while the franchisee is given a business plan known to work, along with ongoing support and all the marketing advantages of operating under a well known name.


Very; it generated more than £11.4 billion in 2008. The chairman of trade body the British Franchise Association (bfa), Mike Goddard, told us: “These are successful businesses with a high percentage chance of success because of the very nature of the support they get through the franchising network. I really think you can’t understate the contribution franchising makes to the British economy.”


According to Mike, a reputable franchising organisation will have a success hit rate of 90%-95%. “Nothing in business is guaranteed, but if you look at a similar statistic for non-franchised business, it’s much lower, below 50%,” he said. Also, since franchises are “proven” systems, banks are more likely to lend you money; they know reputable franchisors will provide the training, support and advice needed to maintain their brand.


Mike Goddard believes Service leavers are disciplined, well motivated, not afraid of hard work and very good at following structures and procedures set down to get a job done. Those are qualities franchisors love in their franchisees.


If you don’t like pizzas, don’t go for a pizza-making franchise; you need to choose something that you’ll still be happy doing five, 10 or even 15 years down the line. Go for a business you feel comfortable with and where you are confident the franchisor will provide an appropriate level of training and support. Whenever you can, speak to existing franchisees to get the inside story.


Start at the bfa; franchisors which are full members have been vetted and passed an accreditation procedure which ensures they adhere to agreed ethical, legal and financial standards. However, you should still do your own research and diligence checking; after all, you’re potentially going to invest a lot of your money into a business and you need to minimise the risks, particularly if you have dependents.

The bfa-recognised website is also an excellent general source of information, and there are regular franchise magazines and exhibitions throughout the year.

Find out more;

British Franchise Association

01865 379 892,

Which Franchise

0141 204 0050,

Some statistics;

The most recent NatWest/BFA franchise survey (the 25th annual report on the sector) confirmed the following facts about business format franchising in the UK during 2008, when the British economy entered recession.

• Estimated annual turnover of the sector £11.4 billion, down 8% on 2007 (£12.4 billion) but still up 5% on 2006 (£10.8 billion).

• Number of business format franchisors: 809, up 3.6% on the previous year.

• 82% of franchisors believe business will improve or remain the same in the next 12 months.

• New entrants can expect to pay an average of £50,400 in franchise fees and other costs, down from £64,900 in 2007.

• Less than one third of franchisees are under 40 years old, compared with more than half in 1992.

• Roughly 467,000 people are directly employed by the franchising sector in the UK.

• Banks continue to be the most important overall source of finance.General Q&A on franchising.

Gas-Elec Franchisee (Oct/Nov 09)


Later this year, former RAF electronics engineer Ian Kavanagh will happily renew his franchise agreement with gas-elec. He explains how the gas and electrical inspection franchisor has provided him with the civilian career he was looking for.

After 25 years in the Royal Air Force as an electronics engineer, 44 year old Ian Kavanagh, from Telford in Shropshire, was looking for the right career in civvy street.

“I had been researching different franchising opportunities for several years as I wanted to be my own boss when I left the Air Force,” he told us. “Whilst on detachment in Kuwait I came across gas-elec, which carried out engineering inspections required by law. So I set up to meet with the gas-elec team while on R&R, and put my notice in on my return. The rest, as they say, is history!”

Ian chose the franchise route as they have a proven business model, which gives a far greater chance of success, plus back up and support so necessary for any new business venture.

gas-elec was launched as a franchise in 1997 to provide gas and electrical safety inspections in the residential lettings sector. The business has grown rapidly into a national network of successful regional managers and local engineers. Today there are more than 126 franchisees operating from 18 regional offices.

“I slotted into the business from day one, which was partly because I was keen, but largely because the franchisor held my hand until I was ready to go it alone,” he explained. “Moving from the forces to civvy street was a complete culture shock. The mindset is very different from the ‘can do’ attitude in the services.”

“The first year was a steep learning curve and the priority was to turn a declining area into a growing one and to rebuild gas-elec’s reputation,” he said. “This I achieved with a great deal of co-operation from the engineers and guidance from the franchisor – everyone works as a team and strives for the common good.”

Ian took on the franchise in September 2004; while it wasn’t all plain sailing, by 2008 he had doubled the first year’s sales. “It’s gratifying to see the results for your efforts,” he added. “It’s all about providing an excellent reliable service, at a fair price, and naturally reaping the financial rewards that hard work deserves.”

Ian’s business has grown in value by the equivalent of an extra £1k for each month he has been with gas-elec. “I intend to continue that growth and need quality engineers with the right attitude to enable me to do so,” he said. “gas-elec is an excellent opportunity for people leaving the forces to generate a good level of income, where they have stability, and are rewarded financially for their efforts, without having to spend long stints away on detachment leaving worried loved ones behind.”

In spite of real challenges during 2008 and 2009, the growth of the network has continued to be healthy, although recruitment has continued at a slower pace than before, due partly to lack of finance in the current climate.

gas-elec is actively seeking and developing new revenue streams for the franchisees and recently embraced new technology, investing immense sums in increasingly sophisticated systems to create an internal and customer facing IT infrastructure that greatly benefits the business.

“This saves huge amounts of time and allows us to react instantly to customer and engineer enquiries, to analyse customer data and convert this into sales and marketing opportunities,” Ian explained.

Which may be why he has no doubts about signing up to gas-elec for another five years.


Founded in 1996, gas-elec carries out impartial safety inspections and light remedial works. Its unique inspection service provides the residential lettings market with multiple inspections of the gas and electrics in just one visit. gas-elec has more than 126 franchisees operating from 18 regional offices, who this year will carry out more than 120,000 safety inspections in domestic properties throughout the UK. For more information call 0800 015 2030, or visit

Red Hot Oven Cleaning Opportunity

Ovenclean, the UK’s number one domestic oven cleaning franchise, reports that business is bubbling for franchisees up and down the country. The reason, according to CEO Julian Minwalla, is simple.

“Cleaning the oven is top of the ‘most hated chores’ list and every householder, school and hotel has an oven, which needs to be cleaned regularly,” he says. “All of which adds up to a massive potential marketplace for Ovenclean!”

Ovenclean franchisees operate from fully equipped professionally liveried vans, benefiting from low overheads and high flexibility, cleaning and restoring ovens to pristine condition within hours.

The franchise is proving a hot opportunity for practical, hard working people, looking to build a profitable business. According to Julian, Ovenclean offers a simple and recession-resilient business model with thorough training and continued support, as well as a unique environmentally friendly cleaning system, an established brand and strong proven demand.

To find out more and request a free information pack, call 0800 988 5434 or visit