How resilience affects the transition experiences of UK Service leavers

Civilian and serviceman shaking hands

Photo by Harland Quarrington, UK Ministry of Defence/OGL

Most UK Service leavers experience successful transitions to civilian life, but some face challenges.

An examination into the role of resilience in successful transitions makes several recommendations. Among them, coordinated support across housing, employment, mental health and other areas of transition should be offered to UK Service leavers.


Although most UK Service leavers experience successful transitions to civilian life, some face challenges including ill health, unemployment, debt and homelessness. In 2016, the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) ran a consultation on Life Transitions that identified individual resilience as an important driver of successful transition. Building on this engagement, FiMT commissioned RAND Europe to research the effect of Service leavers’ resilience on transition pathways and outcomes.


The study aimed to build an enhanced understanding of 'resilience' and 'transition', and to improve understanding of how resilience can affect transition outcomes for Service leavers. We looked at the extent of literature on resilience and transition and examined existing categorisations of different 'types' of UK Service leavers. To identify relevant insights from other sectors, we also conducted an analysis of the challenges affecting other groups of people who may experience difficult transitions, such as bereaved individuals, foster care leavers and former prisoners.


The research team conducted a literature review that consisted of:

  • A systematic review of academic literature
  • A Rapid Evidence Assessment of academic and grey literature
  • A scoping review of ongoing research on UK Service leaver resilience and transition.

An Expert Workshop was also held in London in March 2018 to validate emerging findings from the literature review, involving representatives from military charities, academia and the Ministry of Defence.


Findings on the role of resilience in transition are mixed. Resilience is often not discussed in the literature. Of the limited studies that discuss resilience, some suggest that it can help individuals adapt to change and handle uncertainty. Others indicate that the ‘can-do’ attitude institutionalised in the military could prevent individuals from seeking the support they need.

Different types of Service leavers can be more vulnerable to transition challenges. For example, people who leave the military early are reportedly vulnerable to mental health issues, homelessness and employment difficulties. Other vulnerable groups include involuntarily discharged individuals and personnel with experience of deployment on high-intensity operations.

Existing categorisations of Service leavers do not always capture important details concerning individuals' demographic backgrounds and circumstances of leave, which can affect individual vulnerability in relation to transition challenges. Demographic factors such as age and gender can intensify transition challenges for Service leavers. This highlights the need for more granular categorisation in order to enable more targeted research and support.

Lessons can be identified from comparator groups. Analysis of comparator group transitions highlights that — as with Service leavers — a number of challenges can reinforce each other to create more difficulty in transition experiences. 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 a more limited understanding of resilience in the Service leaver context.


Improvements for policy and support provision

  • Data collection on Service leaver resilience and transition should be systematised, and information sharing practices improved. Supporting this recommendation, the report presents a template designed to capture data on Service leavers’ demographic backgrounds and circumstances of departure. This would support the development of more targeted policy and support for Service leavers.
  • 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.
  • Coordinated support across different areas of transition (e.g. housing, employment, mental health) should be offered to UK Service leavers in recognition of the links between challenges associated with transition.

Areas for further research

  • Primary research should be undertaken to improve understanding of the relationship between Service leaver resilience and transition experiences.
  • Qualitative primary research should be undertaken to enhance understanding of what works, for whom and why in transition to civilian life.
  • ‘Deeper dive’ research into the support provided for comparator groups experiencing transition could offer lessons for the Service leaver context.
  • More funding for longitudinal research should be allocated to support an enhanced understanding of transition experiences over time.