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Royal Commission analysis reveals three deaths by suicide every fortnight

Analysis conducted by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide show there are on average three deaths by suicide by serving or ex-serving Defence members every fortnight across Australia.

Commissioner Dr Peggy Brown discussed this finding in a speech at the National Suicide Prevention Conference today.

Commissioner Brown also revealed findings of new research that has been conducted by the Royal Commission, showing a higher suicide rate for male serving members of the ADF when compared to the Australian employed male population.

This research is the first-time that the suicide rate for permanent serving ADF members has been compared to the employed population.

Male serving permanent members are 30% more likely to die by suicide than Australian employed males. Males serving in combat and security roles are two times (100%) more likely to die by suicide than Australian employed males.1

Commissioner Brown said the findings provide a different perspective to previous research that indicated being a serving member lowered a person’s risk of suicide.

‘Previously Defence stated that service was a protective factor when it comes to suicide. Our analysis, and comparisons to the employed population, show that risks of military service, whether it is occupational or organisational, suggest service may be a risk factor.

‘The Royal Commission strongly believes the employed population is a more accurate comparison group than the general population when identifying at-risk groups in the ADF, given that all members of the ADF are employed and the ADF does not generally enlist individuals with pre-existing disorders.

‘These statistics, along with what the Royal Commission has uncovered in its nearly three years of inquiry, should be seen as an opportunity by Defence to create change and regain the trust of serving and ex-serving members, as well as new recruits. To be an employer of choice, Defence must embrace a duty of care and take action to reduce mental injury and suicide behaviour,’ concluded Commissioner Brown.

Comparisons between the ADF and the employed general population are also consistent with the approach taken in research undertaken by Defence, where it was found that the rate of suicidality in members serving full-time in the permanent force was more than double that in the Australian employed population.2

The finding that service may be a risk factor, rather than a protective factor, is further supported by Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, which estimates that current serving permanent ADF members had 5.84 times the odds of having suicide-related contact with police or paramedics compared to current serving reserve and ex-serving ADF members.

On average over the last ten years, 78 serving or ex-service members have died by suicide each year, equating to three deaths by suicide every fortnight (analysis of AIHW data 2011-2021).

The research and methodology of the above data will be part of the Royal Commission’s final report, due to the Governor-General by 9 September this year.

Download further research presented by Commissioner Brown at the Suicide Prevention Conference, 30 April 2024.

Infographic that features statistics relating to serving and ex-serving suicide data.


1 Due to the small number of suicide deaths among serving females during the same time period, suicide rates cannot be reported.

2 2010 ADF Mental Health Prevalence and Wellbeing Study.
To compare the ADF rates against the Australian population, direct standardisation was applied to data from the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007). The data were restricted to employed people between the ages of 18 and 67, to match the ADF population.