Frequently asked questions
A statistical report that presents population statistics and demographic information on Australian Defence Force (ADF) members who had at least 1 day of service between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 2019. Data is reported as of 31 December 2019 and includes information on ADF service, rank, length of service, time since separation and reason for separation.
The Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 2001 to 2019 report is a statistical report that presents both counts and incidence rates of suicides for members of the ADF who have at least one day of service between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 2019. Information in the report is presented by age, sex, rank, length of service, time since separation and reason for separation.
The AIHW report prepared for the interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention is an accompaniment to the interim National Commissioner’s report tabled in Parliament and publicly released on 29 September 2021. The analysis focuses on ADF members with at least one day of service since 1 January 2001 who died by suicide between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2018.
The AIHW annual suicide monitoring report provides annual updates on the level of suicide among serving and ex-serving ADF members. It is part of an ongoing body of work of a strategic partnership between the AIHW and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). This year report is the fourth’s update and the analysis had expanded to include ADF members with at least one day of service since 1 January 1985 who died by suicide between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2019.
For the ADF population, the suicide rates, patterns and comparisons with the general population are similar in both reports.
Previous editions included members with at least one day of ADF service since 1 January 2001. The current report expands on this earlier work by including members with at least one day of ADF service since 1 January 1985, following extensive investigation and validation of historical data sources. The larger study population enables more detailed analysis, providing greater insight into the risk and protective factors for suicide within the permanent, reserve and ex-serving populations.
An additional 808 suicide deaths are reported here compared to the 2020 update. The breakdown of changes in the number of suicide deaths reported is as follows:
- 717 suicide deaths between 2001 and 2018 in personnel who discharged between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 2000 (and were therefore previously out of scope).
- 84 suicide deaths that occurred in 2019.
- 6 additional suicides in 2018 due to lag in reporting cause of death.
- 1 additional suicide in 2017 due to a change in the reported cause of death from unspecified to suicide.
- 1 additional suicide death was identified in 2015 due to an update in the Defence Suicide Database.
- less 1 death in 2016 that was reported as a suicide in the 2020 report but has since been recoded to a different cause of death.
- 1 suicide death for which the year of death was updated from 2014 to 2015 in the NDI.
The ex-serving population expanding to include those with service since 1985 has resulted in a corresponding increase in the number of ex-serving deaths by suicide reported (i.e. the 717 above). It is important to understand that this increased suicide count does not reflect a higher rate of suicide amongst to the veteran population. Rather, the number of deaths by suicide identified has increased because we are reporting on a larger population. The rates of suicide amongst serving and ex-serving members of the ADF remain largely consistent between this report and ones previously published.
Care should be taken in comparing data in this report with previous AIHW publications, due to the expanded cohort. When comparing the results published here to those released in earlier updates it is more useful to focus on suicide rates, as these give a better indication of the risk of suicide to different groups within the ADF population.
Some astute readers may note that between the 2020 report and 2021 report the number of deaths by suicide of ex-serving ADF members have increased from 267 to 1,062 (a fourfold increase), whereas the total ex-serving ADF population has increased from 125,000 to 274,000 (a twofold increase), while the rates of suicide over the time period remain broadly similar between the two reports. Some may question how this is possible.
It is important to note the suicide incidence rate is the total number of deaths by suicide in a population, divided by population time at risk (person-years). The population who have been added in the current 2021 report (i.e. the 1985-2001 cohort) have a longer average time at risk, and so have a higher number of person-years than the post-2001 cohort. This explains how the rates are broadly similar between the two reports.
This report uses information from the Defence Personnel Management Key Solution (PMKeyS) which started on 1 January 2001 together with a range of Defence historical personnel systems used prior to 2001 to develop a list of all members who had served at least one day since 1 January 1985. This is then linked to the National Death Index. Deaths are reported from 1 January 2001 to 31 December 2019.
The expansion to this larger population provides results that are more representative of the ex-serving ADF population. The larger study population allows for more detailed analysis of smaller subgroups.
Suicide counts and rates are not provided prior to 2001 at this stage. Investigations are continuing into the possibility of including deaths prior to 2001 for future editions on the suicide monitoring report.
Due to limitations in historical Department of Defence personnel records, the study population does not include ADF members with service prior to 1 January 1985.
The assembling and national reporting of deaths by suicide has up to a two-year time lag. Deaths that are referred to a coroner (including deaths by suicide) can take time to be fully investigated by the relevant State or Territory jurisdiction. To account for this, all coroner-certified deaths registered after 1 January 2006 are subject to a revisions process. This allows cause of death for open coroner’s cases to be included at a later stage where the case is closed during the revision period. Cause of death data compiled by the ABS are deemed preliminary when first published, with revised and final versions of the data being historically published 12 and 24 months after initial processing.
Recent events, such as effects of COVID lockdowns, the Brereton Report, and the Afghanistan withdrawal, were not included for reasons similar to those discussed in the answer above. This is due to limitations around timeliness of the coroner-certified data sources used to underpin the suicide reporting data. The up to two-year data lag will mean that the suicide statistics covering the period coinciding with events such as the COVID-19 pandemic (officially declared on 11 March 2020) are not expected to be available until 2022.
A person who is serving or has served one day in the ADF since 1 January 1985.
Overall, serving in a permanent capacity males and males in the reserve are about half as likely to die by suicide as Australian males.
Overall, ex-serving ADF members are at a higher risk of suicide than other Australians, with males 24% more likely to die by suicide, and females 102% more likely (or about twice as likely).
There is variation in certain subgroups, for example the rates of suicide vary for males/females, age groups, length of service and separation method.
It is important to note the ADF population age and sex demographics is different from the Australian population1.
These age and sex differences are considered when examining differences in suicide levels between these populations, and comparisons are presented where these differences are controlled. In this report comparisons to the Australian population are presented for analysis of ADF sub-groups of age, sex, and service status (permanent, reserve and ex-serving).
There are measures under study, which are less meaningful to be compared with Australian population due to underlying factors in the population such as service (Army, Navy, Air Force), rank, length of service, time since separation and reason for separation. For these ADF sub-groups this study compares them to categories within the same sub-group (e.g. Army is compared with Navy and Air Force).
- To illustrate, the permanent, reserve and ex-serving ADF populations have different age structures with median ages of 31, 37 and 50 years respectively compared with 38 years for the Australian population. While the permanent, reserve and ex-serving populations are 84% male, and the Australian population is 50% male.
The ‘at-risk’ groups are those who had a higher rate of suicide than other ADF groups: higher rates were associated with ex-serving members who left involuntarily, were aged under 50 years, separated at ranks other than commissioned officers, and had served for less than one year. In particular, the suicide rate of those who left for involuntary medical reasons was three times higher than those who separated voluntarily (73.1 compared with 22.2 per 100,000 population per year).
The following is sourced from the Phoenix Australia Defence Force Suicides Literature Review (July 2020).
For serving defence force members there is evidence from the United Kingdom (UK) and New Zealand that corresponds with Australian evidence that suicide rates are lower amongst current serving military members than in the general population, though this is not universal. In Canada, Germany and the United States (US), evidence suggests that rates of suicide amongst current serving soldiers are equivalent to or higher than those in the general population, with younger soldiers and those serving in the Army at particular risk.
For ex-serving defence force members, in concurrence with evidence from Australia, rates from the US and Canada suggest that ex-serving defence members are at higher risk of dying by suicide than the general population, though this is not universal. The UK, the Netherlands, and to an extent Sweden are notable in that suicide mortality was lower for ex-serving military than in the general population.
If you need help or support, please contact:
Open Arms - Veterans and Families Counselling 1800 011 046
Defence All-hours Support Line (ASL) 1800 628 036
Defence Member and Family Helpline 1800 624 608
Defence Chaplaincy Support 1300 333 362
Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue Support Service 1300 22 4636
For information on support provided by DVA, see: