Understanding resilience as it affects the transition from the UK Armed Forces to civilian life

by Kate Cox, Sarah Grand-Clement, Katerina Galai, Richard Flint, Alexandra Hall

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Research Questions

  1. What is the extent of the literature on resilience and transition from military to civilian life, and what are the main findings?
  2. What Service leaver 'types' can be identified, and how can these groups be categorised?
  3. What are the challenges faced by (i) different Service leaver types and (ii) comparator groups in other sectors and contexts?
  4. How does our analysis of Service leaver challenges inform our wider understanding of resilience and transition?
  5. What areas for future policy, programming and research can be identified?

There has been growing interest among policy officials, charity representatives and academic experts in understanding the transition process of UK Service leavers. While recent evidence suggests that resilience is important for a successful transition, no systematic review has been undertaken on this topic before this study. FiMT commissioned RAND Europe to research whether — and how — resilience can affect individual transition pathways and outcomes for UK Service leavers.

Key Findings

Peer support, fulfilling employment and good mental health can contribute to successful transition.

  • The literature shows that supportive peer networks, satisfying employment and strong mental health can assist transition to civilian life. However, the role of resilience itself in transition is not widely discussed. Where discussed, the limited evidence suggests that resilience can both support and hinder transition experiences.

Better data collection practices are needed to enhance understanding of the support needs of different 'types' of Service leavers.

  • Evidence suggests that certain groups of Service leavers are more vulnerable to transition challenges, and that demographic factors such as age can affect transition experiences. However, current approaches to categorising Service leavers lack granularity in their discussion of individuals' backgrounds and circumstances of departure. To address this gap, we present a template that could be used by the MOD, service providers, and researchers to capture data on Service leavers' circumstances of leave and wider contextual factors. Data captured in this template could support more targeted research, policy and support for vulnerable Service leavers.

Despite limited discussion on how resilience affects Service leaver transition, the 'comparator group' literature provides valuable insights.

  • Challenges affecting civilian comparator groups — including bereaved individuals, former prisoners and foster care leavers — are often similar to those affecting Service leavers and offer applicable lessons. In our comparator group analysis, resilience was found to play a role in helping individuals handle transition challenges. This literature offers a rich source of evidence, building on the more limited understanding of Service leaver resilience.


  • Data collection on Service leaver resilience and transition should be systematised, and information sharing practices improved.
  • Policymakers and service providers should continue to develop support mechanisms designed to prepare personnel for transition before as well as at and after the point of departure.
  • Primary research is needed to improve understanding of the role of resilience in transitioning to civilian life, what works and why.
  • Longitudinal research and research into the transition experiences of comparator groups would also enhance understanding of Service leaver transition.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Conceptualising resilience and transition

  • Chapter Three

    Types of Service leavers

  • Chapter Four

    Transition challenges for Service leavers

  • Chapter Five

    Lessons from comparator groups

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions and recommendations

  • Annex A

    Research methods

  • Annex B

    Overview of reviewed literature

  • Annex C

    Expert Workshop agenda

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was commissioned by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) and conducted by RAND Europe.

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