Suicide rates among serving and ex-serving ADF members similar to previous years

CONTENT WARNING: This media release contains information some readers may find distressing as it refers to data about mental health, suicide and self-harm.

The sixth annual report on deaths by suicide among permanent, reserve and ex-serving members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) was released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 

Commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 1997 to 2021, includes information on suicide deaths among ADF members who served at least one day since 1 January 1985 and died by suicide between 1 January 1997 and 31 December 2021.

‘The AIHW acknowledges that every life lost to suicide is a tragedy and the impacts on family, friends and communities are profound. We remember those we have lost and pay our respects to those affected by suicide,’ said AIHW spokesperson Paul Pham.

‘This ongoing monitoring will inform improvements in suicide prevention and other services for serving and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families.’ 

The report shows that males who were currently serving in the permanent or in the reserve forces were considerably less likely to die by suicide than Australian males at about half the rate. However, this was not the case for ex-serving males, who were 26% more likely to die by suicide than the broader male Australian population after adjusting for age, although rates vary across certain groups within the ex-serving population.

While the rate of suicide for ex-serving females is lower than that for ex-serving males, ex-serving females were more than twice as likely (107% more likely) to die by suicide than Australian females after adjusting for age.

In total, there were 1,677 deaths by suicide among permanent, reserve and ex-serving ADF members between 1997 and 2021. 

The most recent 3-year (2019–2021) average suicide rate for ADF males was similar to previous years. The rate for permanent males was 14.4, 16.5 for reserve males and 28.4 for ex-serving males per 100,000 population per year.

For ex-serving females, the suicide rate has fluctuated over time, however, there is no identifiable trend due to small numbers. 

Consistent with previous years, the suicide rate for ex-serving males who left the ADF voluntarily was found to be similar to Australian males. The suicide rate for ex-serving males who separate for involuntarily medical reasons is around three times the rate of those who separate for voluntarily (67.1 compared with 21.5 per 100,000 population per year). For ex-serving females, there was no statistical difference between those who separated involuntarily for medical reasons and those who separated voluntarily.

The AIHW recently released Veteran social connectedness as part of an ongoing body of work in partnership with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The report showed that strong sense of social connectedness plays an important role inueducing the severity of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms and lowering the risk of suicide among Australian veterans.

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For advice on how to report on suicide responsibly: Mindframe guidelines 

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