There is ongoing concern in the Australian community about suicide in serving and ex-serving ADF personnel. In particular, ex-serving ADF personnel have historically faced an increased risk of suicide. Reducing the rate of serving and ex-serving suicide is a priority for the Australian Government.
Recent government inquiries have highlighted the need to improve the integration of service responses to meet the health and wellbeing needs of serving and ex-serving ADF personnel (JSCFADT 2015). The need to invest in prevention and early intervention strategies to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for these groups has also been highlighted. The Government has introduced further suicide prevention and mental health support services for serving and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families (AG 2017).
On 5 February 2020, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention (National Commissioner) to inquire into suicides among serving and ex-serving ADF members. As a first priority, the National Commissioner will undertake an Independent Review of Past ADF and Veteran Suicides (the Review). The National Commissioner will be supported by expert technical assistance from the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). The Review will predominantly focus on deaths by suicide among ADF members and veterans who have had one day or more of service since 1 January 2001, where the death occurred between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2018 and will identify and investigate the risk and protective factors relevant to past deaths by suicide among ADF members and veterans. This will build on the analysis provided in the current report, incorporating data from a wider array of sources.
We acknowledge and pay our respects to those who have passed away, or been affected, by suicide. We are committed to ensuring our work continues to inform improvements in mental health, suicide awareness and prevention.
What is in this report?
This online report National suicide monitoring of serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel provides annual updates to information on the level of suicide among serving and ex-serving ADF personnel with at least 1 day of ADF service since 2001 across three service status groups (Box 1).
Box 1: ADF service status groups
Serving full time: ADF personnel serving in a regular capacity in the Royal Australian Navy (Navy), Australian Army (Army) or the Royal Australian Air Force (Air Force) on or after 1 January 2001, on continuous full-time service, or participating in a gap year program.
Reserve: ADF personnel in the active or inactive reserve forces for the Navy, Army or the Air Force on or after 1 January 2001. Most personnel leaving full-time service transition to the inactive reserve forces, unless prevented by medical or other grounds.
Ex-serving: ADF personnel in the serving or reserve population on or after 1 January 2001, who were subsequently discharged.
The information in this report is based on fact of death information from the National Death Index (NDI), cause of death information from the National Mortality Database (NMD) and Defence Suicide Database (DSD), as well as information on personnel in the three ADF service status groups from Department of Defence personnel systems. For more detail, see Data sources.
The study includes ADF personnel with service on or after 1 January 2001, based on when the Department of Defence personnel system was introduced.
- Numbers of suicides are reported from 2001 onwards, based on the latest available cause of death data.
- Rates of suicide are reported from 2002 onwards, based on available population data for the three ADF service status groups.
- While some numbers of suicides can be reported on a yearly basis, 3-year rolling aggregations are used to report the more detailed information.
- Rates of suicide are reported in 3-year aggregations for 2007 onwards as changes to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) coding guidelines were applied for deaths registered from 1 January 2007 and comparable rates for prior years cannot be calculated.
This report is the third annual update to the ongoing monitoring of suicides in serving and ex-serving ADF personnel. Research relating to veterans undertaken by the AIHW can be accessed on the Veterans topic page on the AIHW website. A detailed report, Incidence of suicide in serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel: detailed analysis 2001-2015, was released in January 2018. This report examined the incidence of suicide among serving and ex-serving personnel and further identified characteristics that may be associated with suicide risk. The current report contains information on suicide rates in ex-serving males analysed by service (Army, Navy or Air Force) and by discharge reason (voluntary, medical or other involuntary) for the first time.
Each annual release updates previously published numbers of suicides to incorporate any updates to the source data. These updates add more recently identified suicides, leading to small increases in some suicide rates. The main reasons for changes to previously published results are:
- a lag in cause of death information for the most recent year of data, where a death is registered in the following year
- revisions to cause of death data by the ABS
- improvements in information available to the study.
More detail on these reasons for changes to previously published information is provided in the Technical notes.