Annual reporting about Australian Defence Force suicide deaths expanded to include members who served since 1985

The fourth annual report on suicide among permanent, reserve and ex-serving members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) was today released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 2001 to 2019, is part of an ongoing body of work commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

‘This work is used to inform improvements in mental health and suicide awareness and prevention for permanent, reserve and ex-serving ADF members and their families,’ said AIHW spokesperson Louise Gates.

‘The AIHW acknowledges that every life lost to suicide is a tragedy and the impacts on family, friends and communities are profound. We acknowledge and pay our respects to those who have passed away, or been affected, by suicide.’

Previous reports in this series included information about members with at least one day of service in the ADF since 1 January 2001.

‘Today’s report provides an important expansion by including members with at least one day of service in the ADF since 1 January 1985 and who died by suicide between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2019,’ Ms. Gates said.

‘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 to further inform suicide prevention policy and programs.’

Rates of suicide and comparisons with the general Australian population remain similar to those previously reported. For example, after adjusting for age differences, males serving permanently in the ADF and males in the reserves 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 2002 and 2019 were: 51% lower for male permanent ADF members; 48% lower for reserve males; 24% higher for ex-serving males; and 102% (or 2.02 times) higher for ex-serving females.

However, because this is now a larger study population, there are a larger number of suicides reported than in previous reports.

‘This increased suicide count does not reflect a higher risk of suicide to the ADF population. Rather, the number of deaths by suicide identified has increased because we are reporting on deaths from within a larger group of people,’ Ms. Gates said.

‘Between 2001 and 2019 there were 1,273 certified deaths by suicide among members with ADF service since 1 January 1985.’The suicide rate for ex-serving males who served for more than 20 years was about one third of the rate of those who served for less than one year (15.4 compared with 46.4 per 100,000 population per year).

The suicide rate for ex-serving males who left the ADF voluntarily was around one third of the rate of those who left for involuntary medical reasons (22.2 compared with 73.1 per 100,000 population per year).

The suicide rate for ex-serving males aged over 50 years was lower than for those aged under 50 years (18.9 compared with 35.2 per 100,000 population per year).

The suicide rate for ex-serving males who separated as commissioned officers was about half the rate of those who separated at any other rank (15.5 compared with 31.8 per 100,000 population per year).

Background note: Due to the availability of information from a Department of Defence personnel information system which started on 1 January 2001, the first three reports in this series included ADF members who served 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.

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