Australian Defence Force suicide monitoring

Historically, ex-serving ADF members have faced an increased risk of suicide. Reducing the rate of suicide remains a concern in the Australian community, and a priority for the Australian Government.

To increase understanding on the complex issue of suicide in serving and ex-serving ADF members, the AIHW provides annual updates to monitor the incidence of suicide in permanent, reserve and ex-serving ADF members (see Box 1). This work has been commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Rate of suicide by service status and sex, 1997–1999 to 2018–2020

Tool tip shows suicide rate per 100,000 population per year, confidence interval and significant difference for each 3-year period when the mouse is hovered over a data point.

Key findings

Serving permanent males and reserve males were less likely to die by suicide than the general Australian population. However, ex-serving males and females were more likely to die by suicide than the general Australian population.

Compared with the Australian population, suicide rates (after adjusting for age) between 1997 and 2020 were: 49% lower for male permanent ADF members; 46% lower for reserve ADF males; 27% higher for ex-serving ADF males; and 107% (or 2.07 times) higher for ex-serving ADF females. The rate of suicide for ex-serving ADF females was lower than the rate for ex-serving ADF males. However, subgroups within the cohort of ex-serving ADF members have different rates of suicide.

For ex-serving males who left the ADF voluntarily, the suicide rate was found to be similar to Australian males and around one-third of the rate of those who left for involuntary medical reasons (22.5 compared with 69.8 per 100,000 population).

For more information see Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 1997 to 2020. Further information is presented by service status, age, sex, service, rank, length of service, time since separation and reason for separation. These factors were assessed independently to determine rates of suicide as well as concurrently using multi-factor modelling analysis.

The report also includes a special ‘in-focus’ section on broad-based risk factors relating to deaths by suicide, including biological, psychological and psychosocial risk factors. Identifying common risk factors highlights the areas of a person's life experience that may need additional attention to provide the most effective suicide prevention interventions.


Box 1: Who is included in this report?

Permanent: ADF members serving in a full-time capacity in the Royal Australian Navy (Navy), Australian Army (Army) or the Royal Australian Air Force (Air Force) on or after 1 January 1985, and serving in a permanent capacity on 31 December 2020 or on the date they died.

Reserve: ADF members who were in the reserve forces for the Navy, Army, or the Air Force on or after 1 January 1985, and were in the reserve forces on 31 December 2020 or when they died. Many members leaving full-time service transition to the reserves for a minimum of five years. The service status ‘reserve’ includes members with a wide range of relationships to the ADF. For example, it includes personnel who have transitioned from full time service as well as both those who joined and have served solely in reserve capacity. Some reserve members may serve with enduring regular employment (active reserves), while others may not render service in any capacity (standby reserves).  

Ex-serving: ADF members who were in the permanent or reserve services between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 2020, who subsequently transitioned from Defence.