Royal commission reveals troubling statistics

The interim report of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has unveiled troubling new statistics relating to veteran mental health.

Former female Australian Defence Force personnel are twice as likely to commit suicide as those from the general population, new figures show.

The findings were among those revealed in the interim report of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, which is attempting to find the causes and solutions to the trend.

In total, there have also been 336 instances of attempted suicide across the ADF from 2015 to 2022. However, actual figures are likely to be far higher given these are just those reported.

Suicide is a serious area of concern in the ADF, with at least 1,600 members having taken their own lives.

Following the commencement of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released a report revealing the suicide rates of ADF and former ADF members, adding an additional five years of data.

“It is important we have a full picture of the problem, to understand where and how to best direct efforts to prevent suicide, and to improve the lives and wellbeing of the Defence and veteran community,” said commission chair Nick Kaldas.

According to the AIHW annual suicide monitoring report, the number of serving and ex-serving ADF members to die from suicide between 1997 and 2020 was at least 1,600, with 79 in 2020 alone.

The previous report said there had been 1,273 suicide deaths from 2001 to 2019.

The AIHW’s latest findings revealed that suicide rates for currently serving ADF service men and women are actually lower than the general Australian population:

  • 49 per cent lower for permanent male ADF members; and
  • 46 per cent lower for reserve male ADF members.

That being said, ex-serving ADF members suffer from greatly elevated suicide rates:

  • 27 per cent higher for ex-serving ADF males; and
  • 107 per cent (or 2.07 times) higher for ex-serving ADF females, of which the Air Force has the most.

The report also found that those who are discharged involuntarily due to medical issues are three times as likely to die by suicide than those who leave on their own.

“These aren’t just numbers, but people who tragically felt they could not go on,” said commissioner Kaldas, expressing that the rate is a major concern.

“Behind every death by suicide are family members, friends and colleagues whose lives are forever changed.”

This reveals that post-service support for former ADF members is insufficient.

The royal commission, alongside other recommendations, has suggested that the Australian government “accept or reject recommendations made by the Productivity Commission in its report, A Better Way to Support Veterans, that relate to reforming the legislative framework”.

The Productivity Commission’s report suggests reforming the support for former ADF members, implementing a future system that places a focus on lifetime wellbeing and rebuilding lives, with a principal aim to return a veteran to former physical and mental state, and to provide life-long treatment and financial support where that is not possible.

An excerpt from the report cites the Defence Force Welfare Association saying, “If the member was broken due to military service to the Nation, then the Nation has a moral obligation to restore and financially support the person to an ‘as new’ condition as possible.”

To further its reporting, the royal commission is encouraging current and ex-serving ADF members and their families to make submissions that would help it to direct efforts to lower suicide rates in the defence community.

“We want to hear about all aspects of the military, including recruitment, training, deployment, culture, injury management and transition into civilian life,” said commissioner Kaldas.

“Coming forward isn’t always easy, but your story can help us to make the changes needed to better support serving and ex-serving members.”

The final Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide report is due in June 2024.

If you have been affected by issues in this story and require urgent help, please call 000. The Suicide Call Back Service, on 1300 659 467, also offers 24-hour counselling via telephone, online and video.


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