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Royal Commission Research Program

Every death by suicide is a tragic event. The objective of the Royal Commission Research Program is to identify and examine systemic, structural and cultural issues related to serving and ex-serving Defence member suicide.

The research program aims to provide context and background information, fill critical knowledge and evidence gaps, and summarise existing findings about serving and ex-serving Defence members who have died by suicide or have lived experience of suicide behaviour. The research program will also identify risk factors and practices to prevent future deaths by suicide.

The findings of the research program will inform the Commissioners' final report and recommendations. The research findings will also increase transparency and accountability, and enhance future research, program and policy developments. The findings will also contribute to a research legacy that will be built on beyond the life of the Royal Commission.

The Lived Experience and Research Advisory Group has been established. This group is an expert advisory body to the Royal Commission's internal research program. The Lived Experience and Research Advisory Group provides advice in relation to research evidence and helps evaluate methodology from both lived experience and academic perspectives.

Academic and research institute professionals with significant expertise in the subject matters and specific lines of inquiry determined by the Commissioners, will conduct bespoke research projects across a range of topics on behalf of the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission has and will continue to engage researchers by closed tender, for projects exploring a variety of topics determined by the Commissioners and relevant to the Royal Commission's investigation.

All projects conducted by external providers will have ethical approval from their relevant institutional Human Research Ethics Committees, in addition to following our own Research Ethics and Quality Assurance Framework.

Research underway

Evaluation of a pilot peer delivered, culturally informed, transdiagnostic, manualised, skills-based Group Emotional and Relationship Skills (GEARS) intervention
Principal investigator: Dr Jon Lane (Military and Emergency Services Health Australia)

The research will provide primary evaluation data for the effectiveness of the Group Emotional and Relationship Skills (GEARS) Program. Specifically, in regard to impacts of the program on mental health, suicidality, access and usage of health care services, perceptions of physical health, and perceived functioning and wellbeing. This comprehensive questionnaire will also provide valuable epidemiological data for the veteran cohorts in terms of their mental health, pathways to care, service usage, and wellbeing.

Mapping Service and Transition to Self-Harm and Suicidality
Principal investigator: Associate Professor Ben Wadham (Open Door, Flinders University)

This research will provide information on the risk factors leading to suicide including adverse childhood events, service trauma, and engagement with the Australian Defence Force and veterans' affairs systems, transition, and post service life.

Face-to-face pilot transition skills training program for current serving Australian Defence Force personnel
Principal investigator: Dr Kerri-Ann Woodbury (Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation)

The aim of this project is to pilot a face-to-face evidence-informed reintegration program. This pilot program has the potential to lessen the substantial burden of mental illness and negative psychosocial outcomes in the veteran community that have been associated with transition difficulties.

Partners in Prevention data linkage
Principal investigators: Associate Professor Ed Heffernan and Dr Carla Meurk (Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research)

This research analyses a range of personnel and health data and will provide information on the demographic and health characteristics of Defence related individuals who experience suicide crisis. The analysis will provide insight into patterns of health service use and mortality after their contact with emergency services.

Literature review on Defence and veteran suicide
Principal investigators: Dr Tracey Varker, Professor Meaghan O’Donnell, Enterprise Professor Nicole Sadler, Professor David Forbes (Phoenix Australia)

This project will update the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and veterans literature review completed in 2020 for the Interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide. The updated review will include new research available on the risk factors, trends and evidence-based prevention strategies and interventions related to self-harm, suicide attempts, suicidality and suicides of serving and ex-serving ADF members. The review will also include new topics not included in the 2020 review, including the latest research on Australian Defence Force culture and recruitment, and screening processes.

The Royal Commission has a dedicated research team to provide qualitative and quantitative analysis.

The research team analyses submissions and data provided by the public, government agencies and other organisations. The aim of our internal research is to identify the systemic issues, common themes, and risk and protective factors associated with Defence and veteran suicide.

The Royal Commission conducts systemic analysis on de-identified data – meaning data with the identifying information removed. Data is collected through compulsory notices, and is similar to data provided to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, as well as data related to discipline, suicidality, recruitment and unacceptable behaviour.

Best practice data protection methods are used to maintain the privacy and security of all information held, and both independent ethics advice and oversight from the Lived Experience and Research Advisory Group ensure all research is ethically sound and guided by lived experience.

External Research

The following research projects have been commissioned as part of the Royal Commission's investigation. The content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Royal Commission or Commissioners.

Research paper 1

Suicide and self-harm monitoring of the serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force member population – Part 1: The data landscape and short-term opportunities

A new research paper by the University of Melbourne explores the current availability of suicide and self-harm data relevant to serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members, and identifies opportunities for data development.

Research paper 2

Military Compensation Law in Australia: 2004-2021

A new research paper by Mr Peter Sutherland identifies and explains changes to military compensation law in Australia and highlights the need for substantial legislative reform.

Research paper 3

Suicide and suicidality monitoring of the serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force member population – Part 2: A roadmap to real-time suicide and suicidality monitoring

A new research paper by the University of Melbourne and the second in a series exploring suicide and self-harm data in Australia. This report considers what developments could be made to make data more timely, and long-term thinking about how data might be used in interventions and to support people in times of need.

Research paper 4

Machine learning analysis of risk factors

A new research paper by Phoenix Australia examines changes over time in suicidality in a sample of serving and ex-serving ADF personnel. The report explores factors that distinguish between those who progress from suicide ideation to suicide plans and/or attempts. The report also draws from these findings to consider implications for screening and service delivery.