Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 1997 to 2020, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 31 January 2023.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 1997 to 2020. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/veterans/serving-and-ex-serving-adf-suicide-monitoring-2022
Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 1997 to 2020. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 16 November 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/veterans/serving-and-ex-serving-adf-suicide-monitoring-2022
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 1997 to 2020 [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2023 Jan. 31]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/veterans/serving-and-ex-serving-adf-suicide-monitoring-2022
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 1997 to 2020, viewed 31 January 2023, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/veterans/serving-and-ex-serving-adf-suicide-monitoring-2022
Get citations as an Endnote file:
PDF | 4.9Mb
On this page:
This section presents information on risk factors for permanent, reserve and ex-serving ADF members who died by suicide, including psychosocial, natural disease and mental and behavioural disorder risk factors. Analysis of risk factors among deaths by suicide in the Australian population are presented here as a reference point. However, direct comparisons should be made with caution due to the limitations in the coding of risk factors in ADF and Australian populations. Further information can be found in the Technical notes.
The key findings in this section reveal that psychosocial risk factors were the most common type of risk factor identified among ADF males and females who died by suicide, followed by mental and behavioural disorders and natural disease.
Further, the three most common risk factors for ADF males and females who died by suicide were:
It is widely acknowledged that suicide is affected by a complex interaction of factors over the course of an individual’s lifetime. Broadly, these can include biological (such as disease or injury), psychological (such as mental ill-health or substance abuse disorders) and psychosocial factors (such as family and education history) (ABS 2019). ‘While there is uncertainty about the extent of causation between psychosocial factors and suicide, it is generally accepted that having this information allows for further public health responses to suicide prevention’ (ABS 2019).
Psychosocial risk factors are not routinely certified or captured in mortality coding, yet this information is clearly highly informative in suicide prevention efforts. This information not being routinely available is a construct of using the legal death certification for mortality coding, which only lists diagnosable conditions, diseases and external events causing injury. However, coroner referred death investigations (which include suicide) provide a wealth of information which is captured in the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) for deaths registered since July 2000 (January 2001 for Queensland cases). Using the NCIS, the ABS can supplement the standard death certificate information with psychosocial factors to create an enhanced mortality dataset (ABS 2019).
For the current study, the AIHW commissioned the ABS to identify and code information from the NCIS (using International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision (ICD-10)) to capture psychosocial risk factors for ADF members who died by suicide between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2020 and who had at least one day of service from 1 January 19851. As the NCIS only includes a nationally complete set of records from 1 January 2001 onwards, the ABS coding was limited to deaths after 1 January 2001.
Capturing information on risk factors relating to deaths by suicide can highlight areas of a person's life experience that may need additional attention to provide the most effective suicide prevention interventions. However, it is important to note that the presence of one or more of these risk factors in an individual’s life does not necessarily mean they will have suicidal behaviours. The vast majority of people who have these risk factors will not experience suicidal behaviours.
The ABS define psychosocial risk factors as ‘social processes and social structures which can have an interaction with individual thought or behaviour and health outcomes’ (ABS 2019). Examples of psychosocial factors include relationship status, employment status, bereavement, contact with the legal system and educational outcomes.
The ABS coded psychosocial risk factors for ADF members and Australians who died by suicide using the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) codes Z00-Z99 (see Technical notes for more information)2.
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 2019). These correspond with the ICD 10 codes A00-E90, G00-R99, U071-U072, and U08-U09, with some exclusions (see Technical notes).
Mental and behavioural disorder risk factors are recorded with ICD-10 codes F00-F99 (ABS 2019). A disorder refers specifically to ‘a clinically recognizable set of symptoms or behaviours associated in most cases with distress and with interference with personal functions’ (WHO 1992).
Psychosocial or other risk factors should not be considered in isolation (ABS 2021b). The factors that can lead someone to suicide can be complex and often involve a mixture of causal and circumstantial risk factors. A combination of factors can contribute to increased risk. Further, a presence of protective factors may reduce the risk of suicide (Open Arms 2019).
Deaths in Australia are recorded under certain processes and conventions, this is particularly relevant in understanding the analysis of deaths by suicide risk factors presented in this section. The following briefly introduces two key concepts:
Concept: type of deaths
All causes of death can be grouped to describe the type of death, whether it be from a disease or condition, or from an injury, or whether the cause is unknown. These are generally described as: natural causes, external causes and unknown causes. In particular, deaths by natural causes include deaths due to diseases (such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease etc.) and mental and behavioural disorders (such as depression, anxiety) (ABS 2018).
Concept: underlying and multiple causes of death
There are multiple causes of death recorded on an individual’s death certificate and rules applied to select an underlying cause of death. The underlying cause of death is defined as ‘the disease or injury that initiated the train of morbid events leading directly to death’. Accidental and violent deaths are classified according to the external cause, that is, to the circumstances of the accident or violence which produced the fatal injury rather than to the nature of the injury sustained.
Multiple causes of death include all causes and conditions reported on the death certificate (that is both underlying and associated causes). As all entries on the death certificate are taken into account, multiple causes of death analysis (such as in this section) are valuable in recognising the impact of factors which are less likely to be an underlying cause, highlighting relationships between concurrent processes, and giving an indication of injuries which occur as a result of specific external events (ABS 2018).
Risk factors for Australian males and females who died by suicide are presented with those for ADF members to highlight risk factors that may be specific to ADF members. However, direct comparisons of prevalence should be made with caution due to the limitations in the coding of risk factors in ADF and Australian populations. Further information can be found in the Technical notes. Risk factors are presented for Australian males and females who died by suicide where the death was registered in 2018 (sourced from the National Mortality Database (NMD)), as data from more recent years have a greater proportion of coronial cases remaining open and not yet able to be fully coded for risk factors (see Technical notes). For the data presented, the age range of the Australian population was restricted to the minimum and maximum ages of the ADF population (for permanent, reserve, or ex-serving males and females respectively, age at death ranges from 17 to 78, and 22 to 70).
Risk factors captured in the coding depend on available information. How comprehensively the risk factors experienced by an individual are captured in the coding may vary for different individuals, jurisdictions and cohorts3. While coding risk factors, ABS allocated ADF members a specific code which is not used in the Australian population cause of death coding to capture ‘Defence force related deployment’ (see Technical notes for further information).
Risk factors may have been present at any point of the life of an ADF member, including before, during or after ADF service. Risk factors identified for ADF members who died by suicide may or may not be directly related to ADF service.
Figure 20 presents the proportion of male and female ADF members who died by suicide (between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2020) and Australian males and females who died by suicide (registered in 2018) who had at least one risk factor. It should be noted that the female ADF cohort is smaller than that for males and in general, suicide rates for ADF females are lower. Due to the small numbers of suicides for ADF females, female ADF comparisons should be interpreted with caution.
The median age at death for ADF members who died by suicide between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2020, included in this analysis, was 40 for ADF males and 41 for ADF females. When restricting the age at death range to the relevant ADF populations, the median age for those who died by suicide in the Australian population (registered in 2018) was 43 for males and 45 for females.
Psychosocial risk factors were the most common type of risk factor identified among ADF males and females who died by suicide, followed by mental and behavioural disorders and natural disease.
This interactive text table figure shows the proportion of ADF males and females who died by suicide from 2001 to 2020, and Australian males and females who died by suicide in 2018, with at least one risk factor.
Figure 21 provides proportions for ADF males (permanent, reserve and ex-serving) who died by suicide (between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2020) by service-related characteristics and risk factors. Information is presented by service status, prior service status, service, length of service, time since separation, rank and reason for separation. Due to the small number of deaths by suicide among females, service-related characteristics by risk factors are not reported for female ADF members.
Figure 21 shows that for ex-serving ADF males:
This interactive text table figure shows the proportion of male ADF members who died by suicide from 2001 to 2020 with at least one risk factor by service-related characteristics.
Figure 22 presents the most commonly recorded risk factors among male and female ADF members (1 January 2001–31 December 2020) and male and female Australians (registered in 2018) who died by suicide. It should be noted that the female ADF cohort is smaller than that for males and in general suicide rates for ADF females are lower. Therefore, female ADF comparisons should be interpreted with caution.
Figure 22 shows that:
This interactive text table figure shows the most common risk factors identified among ADF males and females who died by suicide from 2001 to 2020, and Australian males and females who died by suicide in 2018.
Figure 23 presents proportions of ADF males who died by suicide (between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2020), by service-related characteristics and most common risk factors. Information is presented by service status, prior service status, service, length of service, time since separation, rank and reason for separation. Due to the small number of deaths by suicide among ADF females, service-related characteristics by most common risk factors are not reported for female ADF members.
Figure 23 shows that:
This interactive text table figure shows the most common risk factors identified among ADF males who died by suicide from 2001 to 2020, by service-related characteristics.
Data underlying these figures with additional information are available in Supplementary table S9.1-S9.6. See Data for a link to the tables.
Please note, data for more recent years are subject to change; see the Technical notes for further detail.
The NCIS was established in 2000 and contains information on coroner referred deaths registered since 1 July 2000 for all Australian States and Territories except Queensland which commenced on 1 January 2001 (NCIS n.d.).
In 2020, the ABS added codes to associated causes of death coding for the capture of the COVID-19 pandemic as a risk factor based on how it was described as part of the coronial investigation: F41.8 Pandemic-related anxiety and stress; Z29.0 Isolation or quarantine (hotel or home), and Z29.9 Prophylactic measures put in place through health directives for pandemic response, including closure of business and stay at home measures.
The coding of risk factors ‘does not necessarily reflect all causes associated with all suicides that have occurred’ (ABS 2021b) as it is only able to capture those risk factors that arose and were documented in the coronial process, and available in coronial reports at the time the data was coded. In addition, there is no national standard for the collection of data on psychosocial factors—each state and territory have their own legislation and processes relating to coroner-certified deaths meaning that the type of information collected and held by the NCIS database differs slightly by jurisdiction.
The higher proportion of anxiety and stress related disorders (including PTSD) among ex-serving ADF males who separated for involuntarily medical reasons may reflect that these disorders were related to the reason for involuntary medical separation.
If you need help or support, please contact:
For information on support provided by DVA, see:
Some readers may find parts of this content confronting or distressing.
Please carefully consider your needs when reading the following information about suicide. This report contains information on numbers and rates of death by suicide for serving and ex-serving members of the ADF. This report may be distressing to some readers.
If this material raises concerns for you, support is available. Please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Defence All-hours Support Line on 1800 628 036, or Open Arms - Veterans and Families Counselling, available free of charge, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or see other ways you can seek help.
The information included here places an emphasis on data, and as such, can appear to depersonalise the pain and loss behind the statistics. The AIHW acknowledges the individuals, families and communities affected by ADF member and veteran suicide each year in Australia.
The AIHW supports the use of the Mindframe guidelines on responsible, accurate and safe suicide and self-harm reporting. Please consider these guidelines when reporting on statistics on the monitoring of suicide and self-harm.
We'd love to know any feedback that you have about the AIHW website, its contents or reports.
The browser you are using to browse this website is outdated and some features may not display properly or be accessible to you. Please use a more recent browser for the best user experience.