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This report quantifies the level of suicide among serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel and identifies characteristics that may be associated with risk of suicide. It updates preliminary estimates published in November 2016 (AIHW 2016a) using 15 years of data for the years 2001–2015. This is part of an authoritative study on the incidence of suicide among serving and ex-serving ADF personnel that will continue to be updated as new data becomes available.
Between 2001 and 2015, there were 325 certified suicide deaths among people with at least 1 day of ADF service since 2001.
Of these deaths:
- 51% (166) were of people no longer serving at the time of their death (ex-serving group)
- 28% (90) were of people serving full time at the time of their death
- 21% (69) were of people serving in the active and inactive reserves at the time of their death.
Men made up the vast majority of these suicide deaths (93% or 303 deaths) and 84% of the ADF populations examined in this study. Women made up the remaining 7% (22 deaths). The smaller number of women in the study meant detailed analysis on ex-serving women was not possible. Hence the report focuses primarily on suicide deaths among ex-serving men.
Ex-serving men have higher suicide rates
The suicide rates of ex-serving men were more than twice as high as for those serving full time or in the reserve (26 suicide deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 11 and 12 per 100,000, respectively). They were also slightly higher than for their counterparts in the general population after adjusting for age (14% higher, however this difference was not statistically significant).
Ex-serving men aged 18–24 were at particular risk—2 times more likely to die from suicide than Australian men of the same age.
Ex-serving men aged 25–29 accounted for slightly more deaths than other age groups and were 1.4 times more likely to die from suicide than Australian men of the same age. This difference was not statistically significant.
Men serving full time or in the reserve had significantly lower suicide rates than for men in the general population (53% and 49% lower, respectively), after adjusting for age.
Risk groups among ex-serving men
Suicide rates for ex-serving men aged 18–49 were between 3 and 4 times as high as for men aged 50–84. In addition to age, certain service-related characteristics were associated with higher suicide rates among ex-serving men:
- Those who were discharged involuntarily (suicide rates were 2.4 times as high as for those discharged for voluntary reasons), particularly if the discharge was for medical reasons (3.6 times as high as for those discharged for voluntary reasons).
- Those who left the ADF after less than 1 year of service (2.4 times as high as for those who had served for 10 years or more).
- All ranks other than commissioned officers (2.8 times as high as for commissioned officers).
This analysis looks only at each service-related characteristic associated with risk of suicide individually. It does not take into account potential interactions between these characteristics, which will be useful analyses to explore in future work on this topic.
Further detailed results are anticipated to be published in a comprehensive technical report in late 2017. This will include a comparison between the risk groups identified here and the general population.