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The Experiences of Security Industry Contractors Working in Iraq: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

Messenger, Katy DClinPsy; Farquharson, Lorna DClinPsy; Stallworthy, Pippa DClinPsy; Cawkill, Paul MSc; Greenberg, Neil MD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: July 2012 - Volume 54 - Issue 7 - p 859–867
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31824e676b
Original Articles

Objective: To explore the occupational experiences of private security contractors working in a war zone and how it impacts on their mental health.

Methods: Semistructured interviews were conducted with seven contractors employed by a large UK-based private security company. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to analyze the interview transcripts. Participants also completed the 12-item General Health Questionnaire and the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist.

Results: Four overarching themes emerged: the appeal of the job; vulnerability; keep going; and seeking help for stress in the workplace. No clinically significant levels of distress were reported.

Conclusions: Contractors are frequently exposed to stressors known to increase risk of psychiatric difficulty in military personnel. A number of potential protective factors were identified. Only a minority of participants were open to seeking help for mental health difficulties.

From the Department of Psychology (Drs Messenger and Farquharson), Royal Holloway, University of London, Surrey; Traumatic Stress Service (Dr Stallworthy), Springfield University Hospital, London; Human Systems Group (Mr Cawkill), Defence Science & Technology Laboratory, Portsmouth; and Academic Centre for Defence Mental Health (Dr Greenberg), King's College, University of London, London, United Kingdom.

Address correspondence to Neil Greenberg, MD, Academic Centre for Defence Mental Health, Weston Education Centre, Cutcombe Rd, London SE5 9RJ, United Kingdom (

The data presented in this article are part of the lead author's doctor in clinical psychology (DClinPsy) qualification, Royal Holloway College, University of London.

The last author has provided clinical assessments and infrequent psychological health training for the company from which the subjects came but was not paid at all for any activity related to this research. No other potential conflicts of interest exist.

None of the authors had any financial interest related to this research.

©2012The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine