This report investigates potential socioeconomic risk and protective factors for ex-serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) males with at least one day of service since 1 January 2001 in relation to deaths by suicide between 9 August 2011 and 31 December 2018.

Findings from this report show that ex-serving ADF males who died by suicide were more likely to be younger, widowed, divorced or separated, have never married, to have a lower income or to have lived alone than the total ex-serving ADF male population.

The unique nature of ADF service exposes members to both protective and risk factors that may impact health outcomes during and after their military service. These experiences mean some ex-serving ADF members may encounter challenges in everyday living that differ to the Australian population. Previous studies of the health and wellbeing of ADF members have highlighted the importance of understanding the risk and protective factors for suicide (Baker et al. 2017; NMHC 2017; SFADTRC 2017; Productivity Commission 2019; Jones et al. 2020).

Suicide prevention of ADF members is an important consideration for positive health and welfare outcomes for ADF members and of significant public interest. Suicide has profound impacts on family, friends and communities. Every life lost to suicide in the veteran population is a tragedy and service men and women in the ADF are a critical part of the Australian community, particularly in their role in the defence of Australia. Suicide by ADF members, like suicide in the Australian population, is an ongoing and complex public health issue. Suicide can affect anyone—regardless of their personal characteristics and family background—but some populations are at greater risk. Ex-serving ADF members as a population group are at increased risk of suicide (AIHW 2021a, 2021b).

Higher risk of dying by suicide for ex-serving ADF males was associated with:

  • younger ages i.e. aged between 17­–24 years, compared with those aged 45–80 years.
  • being never married or widowed, divorced or separated, compared with those who were in a registered or de facto marriage.
  • living alone or in a one parent family with children compared with those living in a couple family with no children.
  • living in a rented dwelling compared with those living in an owned outright or with a mortgage.
  • earning between $200-399 in weekly personal income compared with those earning $1,500 or more.

It is important to note that while these factors may be associated with an increased risk of suicide, they cannot be considered a direct cause. The factors that can lead someone to suicide can be complex and often involve a mixture of causal and circumstantial risk factors (Open Arms 2019a). A combination of factors can contribute to increased risk. Further, a presence of protective factors may reduce the risk of suicide.