Lower death rates in serving & ex-serving ADF personnel, driven by fewer deaths from chronic disease

Two reports from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) examine causes of death among Australia’s military community. The first takes a detailed look at all causes of death among serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel, with a second report providing the first annual update to high-level information on suicide rates in these groups.

Overall, the leading causes of death for full time ADF members, reservists and ex-serving members were similar to those for other Australian men of the same age.

The first report, Causes of death among serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel: 2002–2015, analyses around 1,900 deaths that occurred between 2002 and 2015 among serving and ex-serving personnel with at least 1 day of ADF service since 2001. Men made up the majority of both ADF personnel (around 85%) and deaths (92%) in the study.

Among these men, 52% (929) were no longer serving at the time of their death, 26% (468) were in the reserves and 22% (393) were serving full time.

The report shows that the overall death rate for members of these three ADF service status groups was lower than for their counterparts in the general Australian population, driven by lower rates of chronic disease.

‘Men in the three ADF groups examined in the report had significantly lower rates of death due to heart disease and lung cancer,’ said AIHW spokesperson Mr Michael Frost.

Rates of heart disease and lung cancer death for ex-serving men aged 50-84 was around 4 times lower than Australian men in the same age range.

Overall, the leading causes of death for members of the three ADF groups were similar to those for other Australian men of the same age. Suicide was a leading cause of death for all Australian men aged under 50, and this was also true for men in the three ADF groups.

‘Men who were serving full time and in the reserves had significantly lower rates of suicide than Australian men of the same age range, but this was not the case for those who were no longer serving—particularly in the younger age groups,’ Mr Frost said.

The report shows that the rate of death due to suicide was higher for ex-serving men aged under 30 than for Australian men of the same age. The second report, National suicide monitoring of serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel, looks at these rates over time. This report contains data on suicide deaths among serving and ex-serving ADF personnel with at least 1 day of service since 2001, and shows that there have been 373 suicides in the period 2001 to 2016.

‘It is important to note that a range of new policies and programs aimed at providing additional support to Australia’s military community and reducing suicide rates have been introduced since the end of the reporting period in 2016, the effects of which will not be observable in the data for several years,’ Mr Frost said.

‘This highlights the importance of continuing to monitor suicide rates over time, to help track the progress of programs and guide future initiatives.’

The AIHW has reported suicide rates among ADF personnel annually since 2016. Further work is underway by the AIHW to build a comprehensive profile of the health and welfare of Australia’s veterans, including those currently and no longer serving, as well as their families and carers.

For advice on how to report on mental illness and suicide responsibly: www.mindframe-media.info

For immediate advice and support:

  • Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service: 1800 011 046
  • ADF All-hours Support Line: 1800 628 036
  • Operation Life Online: http://at-ease.dva.gov.au/suicideprevention
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
  • Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636

Further information: Elizabeth Ingram, tel. 02 6249 5048, mob. 0431 871 337
                                         Elise Guy, tel. 02 6244 1156, mob. 0468 525 418