Better understanding the health and wellbeing of serving and ex-serving ADF members

Contributing to our strategic goal of ‘trusted strategic partnerships’ 

Content warning: This release contains information some readers may find distressing as it refers to data about suicide.

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In September 2021, the AIHW released its fourth annual report on suicide among permanent, reserve and ex-serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) members. Previous editions of the report included members with at least one day of ADF service since 1 January 2001. The 2021 report expanded the population under consideration to include members with at least one day of ADF service since 1 January 1985.

Expanding the size of the veterans group meant that results were more representative of the whole ex-serving ADF population, and detailed analysis of subgroups, including ex-serving females and younger ex-serving males, could be presented for the first time.

However, although the overall rates and patterns of suicide were similar to those reported previously (that is, there was no observed increase in suicide risk), the number of suicides did increase because of the greater number of ex-serving ADF members included in the study. Our challenge was to manage public messaging to ensure that reporting the increase in suicides did not cause undue distress to the veteran community.

In partnership with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, we established a comprehensive communications plan to engage with numerous strategic partner organisations in veteran suicide prevention, including the Department of Defence, National Mental Health Commission, Everymind and Open Arms. Our aim was to ensure that messaging around the expanded population in the report, and the report findings, were communicated appropriately. The plan included several webinars with media, key stakeholders and veterans’ organisations. We worked closely with journalists to ensure media reports were accurate and responsible.

The report was successfully released with extensive media coverage. Media reports were accurate and measured, and we received positive feedback from our stakeholders.