4 key insights into Defence and veteran suicide

Drawing on government data, here are four graphs that shine a light on the vital issue of Defence and veteran suicide.

This article discusses veteran suicide and other issues that may impact veterans. If any of this raises issues for you, don’t go through it alone:

  • Open Arms 24/7 Support Line (1800 011 046)
  • Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467)
  • Lifeline 24/7 Crisis Support (13 11 14)
  • Beyond Blue Support Service (1300 224 636)

At a glance:

  • A report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare outlines the suicide rate for current and ex-serving Defence personnel between 1997 and 2021.
  • Across certain demographic brackets, the ex-serving suicide rate is statistically higher than that of the general Australian population.
  • The rate of suicide for ex-serving males under 30 is much higher than the general under-30 population.
  • These results make the work of RSL sub-Branches and its charity partner RSL LifeCare Veteran Services vitally important to support veterans and their loved ones.

Awareness of and responses to Defence and veteran suicide have grown stronger in the wake of the Royal Commission, and RSL NSW is committed to supporting the wellbeing of veterans and their families, as well as advocating for recommendations made by the Royal Commission.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released its latest research outlining the suicide rate for current and ex-serving Defence personnel between 1997 and 2021.

The demographic covered by the report includes members who have served since 1985, with many datasets being split among males and females, and being presented across metrics such as age, rank and length of service.

The findings reveal several insights – such as how, across certain demographic brackets, the ex-serving suicide rate is statistically higher than that of the general Australian population.

The following graph displays the rate of suicide for current and ex-serving Defence members – showing the number of deaths per 100,000 population, rather than the total number.

Pay particular attention to the rate for ex-serving males, which even at its lowest points has stayed above that of other metrics since the beginning of the dataset.

(Note that, according to the AIHW, fluctuations are expected in some areas due to low total numbers, and that data for current and ex-serving personnel encompasses date ranges – such as 1998-2000 – which may overlap due to reporting conventions.)

 

For comparison, the male suicide rate among the general Australian population has sat at or below 20 per 100,000 population for more than two decades. This is even lower for females at a little more than six.

 

Now let’s take a closer look at the impact of age.

This graph illustrates that the rate of suicide for ex-serving males under 30 is much higher than the general under-30 population – pointing to the importance of prioritising mental health support particularly among young male veterans.

 

Lastly, here’s an indication of how the rate changes depending on the individual’s length of service.

According to the graph below, personnel who have served for less than one year have a higher likelihood of dying by suicide than those who have served for longer.

 

A service length of more than 20 years sees the rate drop to below 20 per 100,000 population, less than half that of the rate for those who have served for less than one year.

Addressing high rates of suicide

The rate of death by suicide within the veteran community makes the work of RSL sub-Branches and its charity partner RSL LifeCare Veteran Services vitally important to support veterans and their loved ones.

The Australia-wide RSL network has been engaging with the announcements made by the Royal Commission.

Army veteran, RSL NSW member and RSL Ambassador Pete Rudland has attended almost all hearing sessions of the Royal Commission on behalf of the RSL. He says the wider veteran community needs to embrace those recommendations rather than stay divided.

The RSL awaits the final hearing block in Sydney, beginning 4 March, and the release of the Commission’s final report, expected by 9 September.

Support services

RSL sub-Branches in NSW have heard the call to foster positive mental and physical health among members – indeed, the whole community – by organising one-off events and ongoing activities as part of the RSL NSW Sport & Recreation Program.

The program, which is open now for 2024, encourages sub-Branches to get veterans and families together to forge bonds of camaraderie and community. Check out the list of upcoming events and get involved.

Veterans and their families can also access essential support and services at the statewide network of Veterans’ and Families’ Hubs, run by RSL LifeCare Veteran Services with support of RSL NSW.

Two new centres have recently been announced in the Central Coast and Queanbeyan. These are set to provide a new outlet for veterans to access essential support and services in those regions. The centres join those in Nowra, Wagga Wagga, Newcastle and Dee Why.

There are numerous support services available to help you, a colleague or a family member in times of crisis:

  • Open Arms 24/7 Support Line (1800 011 046)

  • Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467)

  • Lifeline 24/7 Crisis Support (13 11 14)

  • Beyond Blue Support Service (1300 22 4636)

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has also compiled this list of mental health support services.

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