The Challenge of Christmas

New research by SSAFA reveals that almost three quarters of serving Armed Forces personnel find Christmas a particularly difficult time of year

6 December 2018

New survey reveals the challenges Armed Forces face at Christmas

New research from SSAFA reveals that almost three quarters (74%) of serving Armed Forces personnel find Christmas a particularly difficult time of year, compared to 58% of the general population.


The research suggests that it can be much harder than expected for our Forces men and women to slot back into civilian life over the holidays, with a massive 78% of those surveyed admitting that instead of being joyful, the Christmas period can bring supressed emotions to the surface.  

Although 77% of serving personnel say spending Christmas together with their families means the most to them, almost as many (71%) admit the Christmas period would be 'simpler' and more ‘enjoyable’ if they could spend it at work. Some find it difficult speaking to their family and friends about worries regarding their job, usually because they don't wish to burden them. Almost one in five feel their family and friends won’t understand what they are processing. 

Tom Fox, 46, is a former Rifleman who has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He explains the challenges for serving men and women at Christmas time:

"I was always so happy to return home to my loved ones at Christmas, but it was difficult at times. Precious quality time with my family was sometimes hijacked with feelings of worry or guilt for those who were not so lucky. There was also a certain pressure to slot back into family life during Christmas break and that was difficult. In the Army, you’re taught to be tough and you can hold feelings in. When I look back, a conversation with my family probably would have helped with how I was feeling - hindsight is a wonderful thing."

The stats:

  • Over a quarter (28%) of servicemen and women feel pressured to appear happy during the festive season
  • 24% struggle with the pressure of wanting to make Christmas with loved ones ‘perfect’
  • 1 in 5 say they will have no one to celebrate Christmas with this year
  • 31% worry about finances at Christmas
  • 23% feel guilty about being away from work

Julie McCarthy, Director of Volunteer Operations at SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity:

“This time of year comes packed with hopes and expectations for a 'picture-perfect' Christmas. This can result in a great deal of pressure for families, especially those in the military. This year, we ask the nation to spare a thought for those that might find the season challenging. Extend some festive cheer to fellow neighbours, reconnect with old friends, or consider donating the gift of time or money to SSAFA this Christmas.

“At SSAFA, we work to ensure that those who turn to us for help get the support they need. ​​SSAFA’s network provides lifelong practical, emotional and financial support for serving personnel, veterans and military families in their hour of need.”

Donate now to help support our serving men and women, veterans and their families this Christmas and into 2019.

Do you need help urgently? Please contact Forcesline, our free and confidential helpline, on 0800 731 4880 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday). You can call also contact the Samaritans for free, 24 hours a day. 

1.      Survey carried out in November 2018 by Censuswide

2.      Censuswide surveyed 1,829 of the British public as part of this survey

3.      Censuswide surveyed 101 actively serving Armed Forces personnel, as part of this survey

4.      Censuswide surveyed 369 veterans as part of this survey