AIHW and Interim National Commissioner reports highlight suicide among Australian Defence Force personnel and veterans

Posted 26th October 2021 in General

Throughout the week of 29 September, three Government reports on Defence and Veteran suicide were released. The Life in Mind team summarises them below.

1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) - Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 2001 to 2019

This is the fourth annual update to the AIHW’s report on suicides among permanent, reserve and ex-serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) members.

For the first time, this report included data from ADF members who have served at least one day between 1985 and 2019. Previous editions only included members with at least one day’s service since 2001, and this expansion of the data set more than doubles the population under consideration. Therefore, the numbers of suicides reported are larger, but the general patterns, including rates of suicide and comparisons with the general Australian population, remain similar to previous studies.

A summary of the key findings of this report are available on Life in Mind data page.

2. Interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention - Preliminary Interim Report

The Interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention’s Preliminary Interim Report was tabled on 29 September 2021.

Dr Bernadette Boss CSC commenced her role as Interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention (Interim National Commissioner) on 16 November 2020, and conducted an inquiry into risk and protective factors, and systemic issues relevant to ADF member and veteran deaths by suicide.

As part of the inquiry, Dr Boss conducted several consultations with the Defence and veteran community, government departments, medical professionals and peak bodies, as well as reviewed previous reports and outcomes of recommendations.

The Interim National Commissioner’s report provides 41 recommendations for the Government to consider. These include utilising an independent body to oversee the Australian Government’s monitoring, evaluation and public reporting of past and future recommendations associated with veteran suicide.

Given ex-serving ADF members are much more vulnerable to suicide than currently serving Defence Force personnel, particularly those who are discharged involuntarily for medical reasons, Dr Boss calls for a focus on support for members and families during the period of transition and ensuring psychological and social support is available long term post-discharge.

The Interim National Commissioner’s report has been submitted prior to the commencement of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, for which a final report is due mid-2023. However, Dr Boss stressed in her report that “action cannot be delayed until the conclusion of the Royal Commission. To save lives, the Australian Government must act with urgency.”

3. AIHW Final report to the Independent Review of Past Defence and Veteran Suicides

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) also prepared a report for the Interim National Commissioner to investigate trends, and potential risk and protective factors for ADF members who died by suicide. This report was also released on 29th September 2021.

The report is based on data on serving, ex-serving and reserve ADF members who have died by suicide and had at least one day of service between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2018. The analysis makes comparisons between members of the ADF population and the general Australian population who died by suicide.

The themes explored include influence of demographic and socioeconomic factors, as well as psychosocial factors, on suicide among the study cohort, and also examines service career history. Further, the report provides an analysis of use of health services and pharmaceutical dispensing by serving, ex-serving and reserve ADF members who have died by suicide.

The report is available on the AIHW website here.