by Staff Writer
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released its annual report on suicide among existing and former Australian Defence Force members on Wednesday morning.
The report, Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 2001 to 2019, contained some good news and some bad news. It found men serving in the ADF were less likely to die by suicide than their male peers in the general Australian population.
But former ADF male and female members were more likely to die by suicide than the general Australian population. Since 2001, 1,273 ADF members and former members who served from 1985 onwards have died by suicide.
“That is far too many,” says Christine Morgan, National Suicide Prevention Advisor to the Prime Minister and CEO of the National Mental Health Commission. “While serving, our veterans have protective factors overall against suicide, but face significantly increased risk is upon discharge.
“The risks, in particular, are for our female veterans. For our male veterans, they are at risk if they are under 30 years old, have had five years or less of service, and are discharged on medical grounds.”
Wednesday’s report covers ADF members and ex-members who had served at least one day since January 1, 1985. Previous reports only covered ADF members and former members who had served since January 1, 2001. With a substantially larger study population, there are now a larger number of suicides reported.
“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,” says Louise Gates, Head of Primary, Maternal, Veterans and First Responders Group at the AIHW.
Compared with the Australian population, suicide rates between 2002 and 2019 were 51% lower for males in permanent ADF roles, 48% lower for males in reserve ADF roles, 24% higher for ex-serving males, and 102% higher for ex-serving females.
The AIHW report also found ADF members who left voluntarily were around one-third less likely to suicide than those who left involuntarily. Ex-serving males who had served for more than 20 years were around one-third less likely to suicide than those who served for less than one year.
Those who separate as commissioned officers have lower rates of suicide, around half the suicide rates of other ranks who leave the ADF. The report also found time since separation is not a key factor in suicide levels.
“The prevention of suicide is a key priority for Australia,” says Gwen Cherne, Veteran Family Advocate Commissioner, and partner of an ADF member who suicided in 2017. ”These numbers are not just numbers; they are people. The AIHW report provides us with a more accurate account of who these people were.”