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Ex-ADF suicide rates spike post-service

Defence force workers are less likely to take their life than everyday Australians until they leave the job, new data shows.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has released its third annual update on suicide among serving, reserve and ex-serving ADF personnel.

It shows ex-servicemen and women continue to commit suicide at rates above the general population, particularly when involuntarily discharged for medical or other reasons.

Once out of the ADF, those men were 21 per cent more likely to die from suicide than their average male counterparts after adjusting for age.

Comparatively, the age-adjusted suicide rate for serving and reserve males was respectively 37 and 47 per cent lower than in Australian men.

From 2016 to 2018, the study’s most recent data period, the ex-servicemen suicide rate was 29 per 100,000 people.

That figure fluctuated when factoring in how servicemen left the force, with the report highlighting it as a “significant predictor” for potential suicide.

Former male ADF personnel who were medically discharged (51.5 per 100,000 people) or involuntarily discharged for another reason (37.1) were far more likely to take their lives than those who left voluntarily (21.3).

The suicide rate for ex-serving women was lower than their former male colleagues, but they were still twice as likely to take their life than other Australians.

The national health and welfare agency noted the majority of suicides in serving and ex-serving ADF personnel were among men, reflecting the force’s predominantly male population.

In total, there were 465 suicide deaths among serving, reserve and ex-serving ADF personnel from 2001 to 2018.

The bulk of those came from ex-serving army (177), navy (55) and air force (35) officials.

“These numbers reflect at least in part the fact that those who served in the army made up around 65 per cent of the ex-serving population over the study period,” the report says.

Those figures were mirrored over the most recent three-year span, with 88 ex-servicemen and women (58 army, 20 navy and 10 air force) taking their life compared with 35 serving and reserve personnel.

AIHW spokesperson Louise Gates said the report’s findings would help improve suicide prevention strategies and other ADF services for personnel past and present.

“Further work is underway by the AIHW to build a comprehensive profile of the health and welfare of Australia’s veterans, including those currently and no longer serving, as well as their families and carers,” she said in a statement.

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