Australian Defence Force suicide monitoring
Suicide rates remain a concern in the Australian community and a priority for the Australian Government. Historically, ex-serving ADF members have faced an increased risk of suicide.
To increase understanding on the complex issue of suicide in serving and ex-serving ADF members, the AIHW provides annual updates to monitor the incidence of suicide in permanent, reserve and ex-serving ADF members (see Box 1). This work has been commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Rate of suicide by service status and sex, 1997–1999 to 2019–2021
Tool tip shows suicide rate per 100,000 population per year, confidence interval and significant difference for each 3-year period when the mouse is hovered over a data point.
Serving permanent males and reserve males were less likely to die by suicide than the general Australian population. However, ex-serving males and females were more likely to die by suicide than the general Australian population.
Compared with the Australian population, suicide rates (after adjusting for age) between 1997 and 2021 were: 49% lower for male permanent ADF members; 45% lower for reserve ADF males; 26% higher for ex-serving ADF males; and 107% (or 2.07 times) higher for ex-serving ADF females. The rate of suicide for ex-serving ADF females was lower than the rate for ex-serving ADF males.
For voluntarily separated ex-serving males who died between 1997 and 2021, the rate of suicide was 21.5 per 100,000 population per year, which is similar to the Australian male population. However, the rate of suicide for involuntarily medically separated ex-serving males was much higher at 67.1.
For more information see Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 1997 to 2021. Further information is presented by service status, age, sex, service, rank, length of service, time since separation and reason for separation. This year, this monitoring report includes a special in-focus chapter on DVA clients. The chapter provides a profile of ADF members who have had interactions with DVA from 2002 to 2021 and deaths by suicide are reported.
Box 1: Who is included in this report?
Permanent: ADF members serving in a full-time capacity in the Royal Australian Navy (Navy), Australian Army (Army) or the Royal Australian Air Force (Air Force) on or after 1 January 1985, and serving in a permanent capacity on 31 December 2021 or on the date they died.
Reserve: ADF members who were in the reserve forces for the Navy, Army, or the Air Force on or after 1 January 1985, and were in the reserve forces on 31 December 2021 or when they died. Many members leaving full-time service transition to the reserves for a minimum of five years. The service status ‘reserve’ includes members with a wide range of relationships to the ADF. It includes personnel who have transitioned from full time service as well as both those who joined and have served solely in reserve capacity. Some reserve members may serve with enduring regular employment (active reserves), while others may not render service in any capacity (standby reserves).
Ex-serving: ADF members who were in the permanent or reserve services between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 2021, who subsequently transitioned from Defence.
In addition to the NMD, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) suicide monitoring analysis used the following data sources:
National Death Index (NDI)
The NDI is managed by the AIHW and contains person-level records of all deaths in Australia since 1980 obtained from the Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriage in each state and territory. Its use is confined to data linkage studies approved by the AIHW Ethics Committee for health and medical research. NDI records are supplemented with cause of death information from the NMD. In this study, the NDI is linked with Defence payroll data to create the linked Defence payroll–NDI data set used in analysis of suicide in the ADF population.
Department of Defence personnel system data
The Department of Defence compiled a file of current and historical Defence personnel systems covering ADF members who have served since 1 January 1985. This combines PMKeyS, Core HR system, D1, CENRESPAY (for reservists), ADFPAY (for permanent members) and other historical payment systems. The Department of Defence and AIHW assessed the resulting file for completeness and duplicates. Comparisons were made with records from Department of Defence annual reports and other sources to validate the list. Data from the National Archives was also investigated for its suitability in validation, however as the majority of records are electronic files based on photos of paper records, this was not usable.
For further information see Technical Notes of Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 1997 to 2021.