Frequently asked questions
The Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 1997 to 2020 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 2020, with the suicides monitored over the period 1 January 1997 to 31 December 2020. Information in the report is presented by age, sex, rank, length of service, time since separation and reason for separation.
The previous edition included members with at least one day of ADF service between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 2019 with a suicide monitoring period between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2019. The current report expands on this earlier work by including members with at least one day of ADF service between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 2020 with suicide monitoring period from 1 January 1997 to 31 December 2020. This larger monitoring period enables more robust statistics and greater insight into the risk and protective factors for suicide within the permanent, reserve and ex-serving populations.
An additional 327 suicide deaths are reported here compared with the 2021 report. The breakdown of changes in the number of suicide deaths reported is as follows:
- 241 suicide deaths between 1997 and 2000 in members who separated between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 2001 (and were therefore previously out of scope)
- 79 suicide deaths that occurred in 2020
- 7 additional suicide deaths identified in 2019 due to a lag in reporting cause of death
- 7 additional suicide deaths identified in 2010 (2), 2014 (2), and 2018 (3) due to newly identified linkages
- 6 fewer deaths in 2008 (1), 2011 (1), 2012 (1), 2014 (2) and 2015 (1) due to the omission of Defence Suicide Database identified deaths (see Data sources for further information)
- 2 fewer deaths in 2007 (1) and 2015 (1) due to updates in cause of death information in the NDI
- 1 additional suicide that occurred between 2001 and 2007 that was previously not reported where precise date of death year was not recorded in the NDI
The suicide monitoring period has been expanded to include those who died between 1997 and 2000, and has resulted in a corresponding increase in the number deaths by suicide reported (i.e. the 241 above). It is important to understand that this increased suicide count does not reflect a higher rate of suicide among the veteran population. Rather, the number of deaths by suicide identified has increased because more now fall within the monitoring period. 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. 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.
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 1997 to 31 December 2020.
Suicide rates are not provided prior to 1997 due to data in the NDI being incomplete or otherwise unusable before this date, meaning the linkage between the Defence personnel data and the deaths data is liable to miss deaths. As such it was deemed unworkable to extend the death analysis earlier than 1997 for population analysis study purposes.
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.
A person who is serving or has served at least one day in the ADF since 1 January 1985.
Overall, males serving in a permanent capacity and males in the reserves are about half as likely to die by suicide as Australian males.
Ex-serving ADF members are at a higher risk of suicide than Australian males though this group is not homogeneous, with likely other factors contributing to differing rates of suicide for subpopulations.
Notably, ex-serving males who separate for voluntary reasons are no more likely to die by suicide than the general Australian male population. Those ex-serving males who separate involuntarily are more likely to die by suicide than the Australian population.
Compared with the Australian population, suicide rates (after adjusting for age) between 1997 and 2020 were: 49% lower for male permanent ADF members; 46% lower for reserve ADF males; 27% higher for ex-serving ADF males; and 107% (or 2.07 times) higher for ex-serving ADF females.
To understand whether ADF members have differing characteristics and experiences as well as risk factors for suicide, it is important to compare them with the general Australian population. It is also important to note the ADF population age and sex demographics is different from the Australian population1 and may be a contributing factor to observed differences.
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, service status (permanent, reserve and ex-serving), and reason for separation.
There are measures under study which are less meaningful when compared with Australian population due to underlying factors such as service (Army, Navy, Air Force), rank, length of service and time since 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).
A potential area for future study would be to compare subpopulations of interest to more appropriate alternative populations, for instance, comparing involuntary medical separations to people with similar medical conditions. These analyses are currently out of scope for this report series.
- To illustrate, the permanent, reserve and ex-serving ADF populations have different age structures with median ages of 31, 37 and 51 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 junior other ranks, and had served for less than one year. In particular, the suicide rate of males who left for involuntary medical reasons was three times higher than those who separated voluntarily (69.8 compared with 22.5 per 100,000 population per year in ex-serving males).
The Cox proportional hazards model considered separation from the ADF to be the beginning of a member’s time spent in the model. This is because suicide rates for members before separation is substantially lower than after. Therefore, including serving members in the model alongside the ex-serving would mean having very statistically distinct groups being modelled at the same time which would confuse the results.
Future analysis will investigate the feasibility of modelling the serving cohort separately from the ex-serving cohort.
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
- Open Arms Suicide Intervention page
- Defence All-hours Support Line (ASL) 1800 628 036
- Defence Member and Family Helpline 1800 624 608
- Defence Chaplaincy Support 1300 333 362
- ADF Mental Health Services
- 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: