Former ADF members more likely to die by suicide

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 18 November, 2022 - 12:15
Industry news
National News

Trigger warning: This news story contains information some readers may find distressing as it refers to data about mental health, suicide and self-harm.

The suicide rate for women who are former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is 107 per cent higher than the general Australian population, according to a recent analysis.

This compares with men who are former ADF members, with a suicide rate 27 per cent higher than the general Australian population.

However, suicide rates (after adjusting for age) between 1997 and 2020 were 49 per cent lower for male permanent ADF members and 46 per cent lower for reserve ADF males compared with the Australian population, and the rate of suicide for ex-serving ADF females was lower than the rate for ex-serving ADF males.

Between 1997 and 2020, there were 1600 certified deaths by suicide among members with ADF service since 1 January 1985, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) which recently released its fifth annual update on suicide among serving and ex-serving members of the ADF.

The report, Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 1997 to 2020, forms part of an ongoing body of work commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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 ex-serving females, there was no statistical difference between those who separated involuntarily for medical reasons and those who separated voluntarily.

The report also includes information on risk factors relating to deaths by suicide, and the AIHW said 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.

Of the risk factors examined, psychosocial risk factors were the most commonly identified among ADF males and females who died by suicide, followed by mental and behavioural disorders and natural disease

Psychosocial risk factors are defined as “social processes and social structures which can have an interaction with individual thought or behaviour and health outcomes”.

For both ADF males (49 per cent) and females (66 per cent) who died by suicide, the most commonly identified risk factor was the presence of a mood (affective) disorder, such as depression and anxiety disorders.

For ADF males, problems in spousal relationship circumstances (41 per cent) and suicidal ideation (29 per cent) were the second and third most commonly identified risk factors among those who died by suicide.

For ADF females, the second-most-common risk factors were a personal history of self-harm and problems in spousal relationship circumstances or (both 38 per cent).