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 has provided annual updates to monitor the incidence of suicide in permanent, reserve and ex-serving ADF members since 2017 (see Box 1). This work has been commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Rate of suicide by service status and sex, 2002–04 to 2017–19.

The data can be viewed by selected veteran groups, with confidence intervals on or off, and up to two series can be compared at once. The graph shows the rate of suicide, per 100,000 population per year, for male permanent, male reserve, male ex-serving, and female ex-serving ADF members, for 3-year periods from 2002–04 to 2017–19.  Of the four different data series, ex-serving males were consistently higher than the others in every year under analysis. Between the other three groups, these series are at a broadly similar level, with no one group being above the others.

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.

Key findings

Permanent and reserve males are about half as likely to die by suicide as Australian males (51% and 48% lower respectively).

Overall, ex-serving ADF members are at a higher risk of suicide than other Australians, with males 24% more likely to die by suicide, and females 102% more likely (or about twice as likely). However, some subgroups of the ex-serving ADF members have different rates of suicide.

The suicide rate for ex-serving males who separate voluntarily is around one third of the rate of those who separate for involuntary medical reasons (73.1 compared with 22.2 per 100,000 population per year).

For more information see Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 2001 to 2019.

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) from 1 January 1985, and serving in a permanent capacity on 31 December 2019 or when they died.

Reserve: ADF members in the reserve forces for the Navy, Army or the Air Force from 1 January 1985 and who were in the reserve forces on 31 December 2019 or when they died. Most members leaving full-time service transition to the reserves (for a minimum of five years), unless prevented by medical or other reasons. The service status ‘Reserve’ includes members with a wide range of different experience and relationships to the ADF. For example, it includes personnel who have transitioned from full time service as well as both those who have joined in reserve capacity. Members provide service across a service spectrum that is based on their availability to render service. Some members may not render service in any capacity due to their personal circumstances, however they are liable to be called on by Government.

Ex-serving: ADF members in the fulltime or reserve services between 1 January 1985 and 31 December 2019, but who subsequently transitioned from Defence.