Friday 30th November 2018

New initiatives developed after research identifies loneliness and social isolation as top issues facing RAF

A new report from the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund finds that the biggest challenges our serving RAF and their partners are experiencing include mental wellbeing difficulties, social isolation and partner employment opportunities.

The report, Meeting the Needs of the Serving RAF Community, was launched today (29 Nov) at the House of Commons and the event was kindly sponsored by DXC Technology. It reached almost 10 per cent of serving RAF personnel and was conducted with the support of the RAF.

Key findings:

  • Relationship difficulties and loneliness were the top major issues reported by RAF personnel and partners
  • 52% of RAF personnel said they had experienced community or social isolation within the past few years
  • 42% of partners said loneliness had been a problem they had experienced
  • 39% of RAF personnel and 48% of partners reported problems with their mental wellbeing within the past few years
  • 27% of RAF personnel said they had experienced marriage or relationship difficulties in recent years
  • 76% of RAF personnel say they tend to prefer to deal with their problems alone than seek help
  • 39% of RAF personnel said they had been too embarrassed to ask for help in the past
  • Frequent station moves, distance from close relatives, deployments, irregular shifts, anti-social hours all contributed to feelings of social isolation

Click on the image to read the report


In response to the findings, the RAF Benevolent Fund announced a multi-million pound response to the RAF’s key needs, as highlighted by the research in the report, and is in addition to other on-going work and support already provided. Some of this will be delivered through grant funding, while other programmes will be tested via pilot schemes first to ensure that they are effective and valued before consideration is given to rolling them out further.

  • Enhancing mental wellbeing among individuals by funding access to the mindfulness app
    Headspace for RAF personnel
  • Enhancing social engagement, increasing connectivity and reducing isolation and
    loneliness by piloting Station Engagement Workers, providing funding for facilities and play
    parks, and expanding its flagship Airplay youth support programme on RAF Stations.
  • Increasing the employability and wellbeing of RAF partners by piloting workshops and seminars
  • Enhancing and strengthening family relationships by completing and evaluating a pilot providing wellbeing breaks for RAF
    families across the UK.
  • Increasing awareness of the range of support that is available to the serving RAF
    community, ensuring more people receive support in times of need by developing a digital
    tool which provides an easy-to-access source of information

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier and RAF Benevolent Fund chairman of the Trustees, Lawrie Haynes

Corporal Gary Wigglesworth and Sqn Ldr Myles Thorne check out the report


Air Vice-Marshal David Murray, Chief Executive of the RAF Benevolent Fund, said:

“If we didn’t know it already, this project has reminded us that RAF personnel and their families demonstrate incredible resilience on a daily basis, as they wrestle with the challenges of modern-day Service life. However, given the increasing complexity of some of the issues faced, there remains a requirement for targeted support to assist serving RAF families during periods of need.

“Working closely with the RAF, the Fund has developed a package of practical initiatives that will make a real difference to the lives of RAF personnel and their families in the areas that have emerged from the research.”

In his foreword to the report, Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson MP said:

“The extensive support that the charity currently has in place is already impressive and highly regarded by both myself and the Chief of the Air Staff.  But the additional projects the Fund has committed to develop in the coming years, in direct response to this report, will make a substantive difference to RAF personnel and their families in need and distress.”

Case study

Warrant Officer Jon Sykes, 48, signed up to use Headspace during the Fund’s pilot scheme and has clocked up 150 consecutive day’s use and 6,000 minutes of mindfulness since then.

He said: “Everybody has busy lives and what I felt was lacking in my own life was the tools to balance all of those demands. Now it has become a routine, as routine as breakfast or brushing my teeth. It has become a regular part of my day.

“There are lots of thoughts people have and lots of external influences, this app puts them in a language you can understand, using graphics and animations. It helps to put those thoughts into context and understand why you react to those thoughts.

“In short, Headspace has taught me not to sweat the small stuff!”

Jon works at RAF HQ Air Command on the RAF’s stress management and mental resilience policy and sees the potential the app has to help all serving personnel.

He added: “There is something on Headspace for everybody. The support for this, from the RAF Benevolent Fund, is a brilliant initiative and one I hope benefits those who need it.”

Focus group quotes

“You have people you work with, but they are not close friends. In my whole 20 years in the air force I have felt isolated and lonely. Every day I am away I would say my wife feels isolated and lonely. When you live on a military station every year your neighbours change. It’s harder for her to make friends than it is for me.” Senior Non-Commissioned Officer

“To be honest I’m at my wit’s end with it (the lack of notice about next posting). I’m at breaking point with it. There’s no consistency…. and no communication. It’s tipping me over the edge.” Partner working full time, with child with special needs

“The nomadic lifestyle is stressful… I became conflicted…between what I want for my own career and identity, and the sacrifices I have to make, versus keeping my family together.” Partner, working full time in a professional healthcare role

“My GP told me that stability is the one thing that would help me, but that’s the one thing I can’t have!” Partner, experiencing mental wellbeing issues

RAF Benevolent Fund logo

Top image: Reception room in the House of Commons

See also Military support organisations

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