Military spouses’ experiences of living alongside their UK serving partners during a mental health issue

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


One in eight UK Armed Forces personnel will seek healthcare from military services for a mental health related issue (Ministry of Defence, 2020). Furthermore, the presence of a mental health illness is the second most leading cause of divorce within the serving military population.

A review of the literature found only one qualitative study exploring the experiences of UK military spouses ‘providing informal care to wounded, injured or sick (WIS) personnel’ (Thandi et al, 2016; p 1). However, it is noted that not all the WIS personnel in this study had a mental health issue. There appears to be no current qualitative research which specifically explores military spouses’ experiences of living alongside a UK serving partner with a mental health issue. This study therefore aimed to explore the military spouse’s lived experience with a view to understanding and informing future developments of supportive strategies specific to military spouses.

The study used a qualitative, biographical methodology, collecting data through life stories. Two face-to-face semi-structured interviews took place with nine military spouse who were recruited through military spouse networks and snowballing. The military spouses were all married to UK Army personnel across a range of ranks.

Lieblich et al.’s (1998) work offers framework for analytical pluralism, which encompasses both the completeness of the story and the generation of themes or categories. Following Lieblich et al.’s (1998) two-stage life story analysis approach, the participants’ stories are presented in the stages ‘in the beginning’, changing times’ and ‘this is me’. Using Lieblich et al.’s (1998) categorical – content approach, six overarching categories were identified.

The study is the first of its kind within the UK. Several original contributions to knowledge arose. The study emphasizes how the mood status of the military spouse is affected by their serving partners mental health status. The study also illustrates the military spouse experience in the period before diagnosis. The study highlights the challenges faced, relationship protective factors and the effects on the marital relationship. It emphasizes the need for support and inclusion strategies of the military spouse from treatment services, in order to keep the military spouse well, provide vital support and aid the recovery journey of their serving partner. The study illustrates the lack of both formal and informal support because of the perceived stigma and fear of being judged. Finally, the convergence of findings facilitated the generation of a conceptual U-curve illustration depicting the trajectory of the military spouse’s journey of living alongside their serving partner during a mental health issue.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Northumbria University
  • Clarke, Amanda, Supervisor
  • Wilson-Menzfeld, Gemma, Supervisor
Award date14 Feb 2023
Place of PublicationNewcastle upon Tyne
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2022

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