Australian Defence Force suicide monitoring

There is ongoing concern in the Australian community about suicide in serving and ex-serving ADF personnel. In particular, ex-serving ADF personnel have historically faced an increased risk of suicide. Reducing the rate of serving and ex-serving suicide is a priority for the Australian Government.

To increase understanding of the complex issue of suicide in serving and ex-serving ADF personnel the AIHW has been commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) to develop reliable data and monitor the incidence of suicide in the 3 ADF service status groups—personnel serving full time, personnel serving in the reserves and ex-serving personnel (see Box 1).

Age-standardised suicide mortality ratio of Australian Defence Force personnel, 2007–09 to 2005–17.

The graph shows the age-standardised suicide mortality ratios of male serving, reserve and ex-serving ADF personnel to an age-matched population of Australian men, for 3-year periods from 2007–09 to 2015–17, with confidence intervals.  The data can also be viewed by selected ADF serving group and with confidence intervals on or off. The age-adjusted suicide rate for serving men was significantly lower than rates for Australian men in each 3-year period from 2007–2009 to 2014–2016. The age-adjusted suicide rate for men in the reserves was significantly lower than in Australian men in each 3-year period from 2009–2011 to 2015–2017. The age-adjusted suicide rate among ex-serving men was significantly higher than in men in the Australian population in the 3-year period 2013–2015.

Tool tip shows standardised mortality ratio (SMR; see Technical notes and Glossary for further information) and significance when the mouse is hovered over a data point.

The age-adjusted suicide rate for serving men was found to be significantly lower than rates for Australian men in each 3-year period from 2007–2009 to 2014–2016 and in 2016–2018. When compared with rates for Australian men, the age-adjusted suicide rate for serving men ranged between 63% lower (SMR=0.37) in 2012–2014 and 27% lower (SMR=0.73) in 2015–2017. 

After adjusting for age, the suicide rate for men in the reserves was found to be significantly lower than in Australian men in each 3-year period from 2009–2011 to 2016–2018. When compared with rates for Australian men, the age-adjusted suicide rate among men in the reserves ranged from 32% lower (SMR=0.68) in 2007–2009 to 57% lower (SMR=0.43) in 2015–2017.

Conversely, the age-adjusted suicide rate among ex-serving men was significantly higher than in age-matched Australian men in 2013–2015 and 2015–2017. When compared with the rate for Australian men, the age-adjusted rate for ex-serving men was between 14% higher (SMR = 1.14) in 2009–2011 and 36% higher (SMR = 1.36) in 2013–2015.

For more information on Veterans and the National suicide monitoring of serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel see National suicide monitoring of serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel: 2020 update.

Box 1: ADF service status groups

Serving full time: ADF personnel serving in a regular capacity in the Royal Australian Navy (Navy), Australian Army (Army) or the Royal Australian Air Force (Air Force) on or after 1 January 2001, on continuous full-time service, or participating in a gap year program.

Reserve: ADF personnel in the active or inactive reserve forces for the Navy, Army or the Air Force on or after 1 January 2001. Most personnel leaving full-time service transition to the inactive reserve forces, unless prevented by medical or other grounds.

Ex-serving: ADF personnel in the serving or reserve population on or after 1 January 2001, who were subsequently discharged.