Incidence of suicide in serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel: detailed analysis 2001–2015

20 Jan 2018

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This report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare quantifies the level of suicide among serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel and identifies factors that may be associated with suicide risk. For completeness, it includes results of the earlier summary report (AIHW 2017b) alongside the detailed analysis supporting them, including additional analyses by age group and over time.

Analysis in the summary report examined each service-related characteristic associated with risk of suicide individually. 

This analysis is part of an authoritative study commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs on the incidence of suicide among serving and ex-serving ADF personnel. Results will provide a baseline for the ongoing monitoring of suicide rates among these personnel.

Key findings
Between 2001 and 2015, there were 325 certified suicide deaths among people with at least 1 day of ADF service since 2001. Of these, 51% (166) were ex-serving at the time of their death, 28% (90) were serving full time and 21% (69) were in the reserves.

Men made up 84% of the ADF populations examined in the study. The clear majority of suicide deaths identified (93% or 303 deaths) occurred among men, with 7% (22 deaths) among women. Due to the smaller number of women in the study, detailed analysis on women was not possible. Hence, the report focuses primarily on suicide death among men.

Ex-serving men have higher suicide rates
Suicide rates among men serving full time and in the reserves were significantly lower than for all Australian men. In contrast, the suicide rate for ex-serving men was:

14% higher than for men in the general population after adjusting for age; this was not statistically significant, but important when considered in the context of significantly lower all-cause mortality in ex-serving men compared with all Australian men
significantly higher for ex-serving men aged 18–29 compared with all Australian men of the same age
more than twice as high as for men serving full time or in the reserves
more than twice as high as for ex-serving women.
Based on these findings, this report focuses primarily on risk factors for suicide death among ex-serving men.

No change in ex-serving suicide rate
Between 2007–2009 and 2013–2015, there was no statistically significant change in the crude suicide rate among ex-serving men. This will continue to be monitored as more years of data become available.

Risk groups among ex-serving men
Analysis for the summary report found younger age, involuntary discharge (particularly medical discharge), less than 1 year of service, and discharge in all ranks other than commissioned officer to be associated with higher suicide risk. This analysis examined each of these characteristics individually so it was not possible to separate out the effects of potentially interrelated characteristics (for example, younger age and short length of service) to show which was most strongly associated with suicide death when all other factors were controlled for. Logistic regression was undertaken in this report for this purpose.

Results of the modelling largely support earlier findings based on crude rates and show that, when age and all other available factors are controlled for, the following service-related characteristics were associated with significantly higher suicide risk among ex-serving men:

Medical discharge (the odds for suicide are 1.9 times the odds for those discharged voluntarily).
Discharge in all ranks other than commissioned officers (the odds for suicide are 2.2 times the odds for commissioned officers).
Length of service was not a significant predictor of suicide death once all other factors were controlled for. However, the results of this analysis still suggest an increased likelihood of suicide in ex-serving men with less than 1 year of service when compared with men who served 10 years or more.

This study identifies groups of people who may be at higher risk of suicide death, but it cannot indicate if a particular characteristic is the cause of the suicide death. Other analyses, such as qualitative or case-study analysis, would be needed to provide useful insight into the circumstances leading up to these deaths. Nonetheless, the information and data in this report may help to inform policy and to develop interventions to reduce suicide rates among serving and ex-serving ADF personnel.


Publication Release Date: 19 Jan 2018 Author: AIHW