Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Final report to the Independent Review of Past Defence and Veteran Suicides, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 02 December 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Final report to the Independent Review of Past Defence and Veteran Suicides. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/veterans/independent-review-past-defence-veterans-suicides
Final report to the Independent Review of Past Defence and Veteran Suicides. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 29 September 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/veterans/independent-review-past-defence-veterans-suicides
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Final report to the Independent Review of Past Defence and Veteran Suicides [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 Dec. 2]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/veterans/independent-review-past-defence-veterans-suicides
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Final report to the Independent Review of Past Defence and Veteran Suicides, viewed 2 December 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/veterans/independent-review-past-defence-veterans-suicides
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The top three psychosocial risk factors were the same for both male ADF members who died by suicide and Australian males who died by suicide, yet were identified in a higher proportion of male ADF members:
This chapter investigates risk factors for ADF members who died by suicide, including psychosocial risk factors, natural diseases and mental and behavioural disorders, and their mechanism of death. The study cohort covers ADF members who have died by suicide from 2001 to 2018. While the patterns of death by suicide among females in the study cohort were similar to males, comparisons are not presented for females because of small numbers.
Datasets used for the analysis include information from the National Coronial System for members of the study cohort who died by suicide between 2001 and 2018, coded by the ABS for psychosocial risk factors, natural diseases and mental and behavioural disorders. Comparisons are made between the study cohort and the Australian population of deaths by suicide, 2017 or 2018 using published results from ABS analysis of information from the National Coronial System (ABS 2018b; 2019b).
In a previous report by the ABS, psychosocial risk factors were defined to be ‘social processes and social structures which can have an interaction with individual thought or behaviour and health outcomes’ (ABS 2019c). Examples of psychosocial risk factors include relationship status, employment status, bereavement, and contact with the legal system. The ABS coded psychosocial risk factors using the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) codes Z00-Z99 (see Technical notes for more information).
Natural disease, as defined by the ABS, includes “all disease and health related conditions with the exclusion of mental and behavioural disorders, injuries, and external causes” (ABS 2019c). These correspond with the ICD‑10 codes A00-E90 and G00-R99. Mental and behavioural disorders are psychological factors including those related to drug and alcohol use, ICD-10 codes F00-F99 (ABS 2019c). The ABS (2019c) defines ‘associated causes’ as psychosocial risk factors, mental and behavioural disorders, or natural disease. It is important to note that more than one of these types of risk factors may be present in the life of an individual, and they may interact with one another.
ADF males who died by suicide were more likely than Australian males to have all three kinds of associated causes: psychosocial risk factors, mental and behavioural disorders, and natural disease (Figure 11)
Sources: AIHW analysis of linked PMKeyS—NDI data—ABS coded NCIS data 2001–2018; ABS 2019c.
Figure 12 presents the associated causes for male ADF members and Australian males who died by suicide:1
The three most common psychosocial factors were the same for both ADF members in the study cohort and Australian suicide populations, yet were identified in a higher proportion of ADF members who died by suicide (Figure 12):
Sources: AIHW analysis of linked PMKeyS—NDI —ABS coded NCIS data 2001–2018; ABS 2020.
Among male ADF members who died by suicide, around 1 in 6 experienced ‘Exposure to disaster, war and other hostilities’ (15%). While this risk factor was the 4th most common among ADF members in the study cohort, it was not in the top 5 for Australian suicides. Around 1 in 6 male ADF members who died by suicide experienced ‘Defence force related deployment’ (15%), noting, this was only coded for ADF members in the study cohort.
Table 9 provides summary statistics for counts and proportions of ADF suicides by service characteristics and associated causes. Table 9 shows:
Total suicides with mental and behavioural disorders(b)
Total suicides with reported natural disease(c)
Total suicides with psychosocial risk factors(d)
Length of service(e)
Less than one year
20 or more years
Other involuntary separation
All Ex-serving ADF members
Branch of service
All ADF members(g)
Sources: AIHW analysis of linked PMKeyS—NDI—ABS coded NCIS data 2001–2018.
Many of the same natural diseases and mental and behavioural disorders were common among ADF males in the study cohort and Australian males who died by suicide (Table 10).
Proportion of ADF males, 2001─2018
Proportion of Australian males, 2017
Suicide ideation (R458)
Finding of alcohol in blood (R780)
Finding of psychotropic drug in blood (R785)
Finding of hallucinogen in blood (R783)
Other chronic pain (R522)
Mental and behavioural disorders
Depressive episode, unspecified (F329)
Mental and behavioural disorders due to use of alcohol, acute intoxication (F100)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (F431)
Anxiety disorder, unspecified (F419)
Mental and behavioural disorders due to use of alcohol, harmful use (F101)
Total number of deaths by suicide(c)
N/A – not reported in ABS analysis of the most common associated causes for Australian males and therefore unavailable for comparison.
Source: AIHW analysis of linked PMKeyS—NDI—ABS coded NCIS data 2001–2018; ABS 2020.
Understanding the methods used for suicide can play an important role in suicide prevention. These data are provided to inform discussion around restriction of access to means as a policy intervention for the prevention of suicide.
Please consider your need to read the following information. If this material raises concerns for you or if you need immediate assistance, please contact any of the following:
Open Arms - Veterans and Families Counselling 1800 011 046
Open Arms Suicide Intervention page
Defence All-hours Support Line (ASL) 1800 628 036
Defence Member and Family Helpline 1800 624 608
Defence Chaplaincy Support 1300 333 362
ADF Mental Health Services
Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue Support Service 1300 22 4636
Please consider the Mindframe guidelines if reporting on these statistics.
Table 11 provides summary statistics of the mechanism of death for members of the study cohort who died by suicide and comparisons with the Australian suicide population.
Hanging was the most common mechanism among ADF members (61%), similar to the Australian population (57%). Firearms were involved in a similar proportion of ADF members and Australian population suicides (7% of compared with 5%).
ADF Suicides, 2001─2018
Australian Suicides, 2017
Contact with sharp object
Drowning and submersion
Sources: AIHW analysis of linked PMKeyS—NDI—ABS coded NCIS data 2001–2018; ABS 2020.
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