Stark suicide stats for vets

While men currently serving in the Australian Defence Force are less likely to die by suicide than the general male population, men who have left the defence force are 26% more likely to die by suicide.

The sixth annual report on deaths by suicide among permanent, reserve, and ex-serving members of the ADF was commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and released this week by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 

The report also highlighted that while the rate of suicide for women after they leave the defence force is much lower than that of ex-serving men, women are also more than twice as likely to die by suicide than the general female population of Australia. 

The report includes information on suicide deaths from 1997-2021 for those who had served at least one day in the ADF since 1985 and reveals that 1,677 current and former Australian defence personnel have died by suicide between 1 January 1997 and 31 December 2021. 

“The AIHW acknowledges that every life lost to suicide is a tragedy and the impacts on family, friends and communities are profound. We remember those we have lost and pay our respects to those affected by suicide,” AIHW spokesperson Paul Pham said. 

“This ongoing monitoring will inform improvements in suicide prevention and other services for serving and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families.” 

While male former personnel were 26% more likely to die by suicide than the broader male Australian population, after adjusting for age, rates varied across certain groups within the ex-serving population. 

For example, the suicide rate for ex-serving males who separated for involuntarily medical reasons was around three times the rate of those who separated voluntarily (67.1 compared with 21.5 per 100,000 population per year).  

For ex-serving females, there was no statistical difference between those who separated involuntarily for medical reasons and those who separated voluntarily, and while their suicide rate has fluctuated over time, the researchers highlighted that there was no identifiable trend due to small numbers. 

The researchers also noted that a strong sense of social connectedness played an important role in reducing the severity of PTSD symptoms and lowering the risk of suicide among Australian veterans.