Suicide rates higher among Australia’s ex-service defence personnel

Amanda Lyons

21/09/2018 1:47:31 PM

People serving in the Australian Defence Force experience good physical health during and after their service, but mental health may be a different story.

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ADF personnel tend to have excellent physical health before and after service, but mental health can become a problem upon leaving the force, new research has found.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) today released two reports comparing causes of death and suicide rates among serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel.
The analysis focused largely on men, who made up the vast majority of ADF personnel (85%) and deaths (92%) during the period of research.
Deaths that occurred overseas in the course of duty were not captured by the data.
Causes of death among serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel: 2002–2015 found that rates of all causes of death, including chronic disease and injury, were lower among ADF populations than the Australian male population in general. Leading causes of death by age group were also the same for ADF personnel and the general population.
However, there were some significant variations regarding suicide as a cause of death among ADF personnel. These are mentioned in the report on causes of death, but explored more fully in National suicide monitoring of serving and ex-serving Australian Defence personnel: 2018 update.
This report found that the age-adjusted rate of suicide was 51% lower for current serving men when compared to the general Australian population, but 18% higher for ex-serving men.
These results support concerns that the transition to civilian life is a vulnerable time for ADF personnel, one that may increase risk of suicide and other mental health problems.
In response to such concerns, the Federal Government recently increased accessibility to mental health cover for Australian veterans, a move Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester was keen to highlight as the AIHW reports were released.
‘We are committed to supporting the physical and mental health of veterans and these reports provide a valuable contribution to our understanding of veterans’ health,’ Minister Chester said.
‘We have taken significant steps in recent years to increase mental health support to our veterans, and our priority now is to enhance support to veterans during their transition period.’
Dr Glenn Pascoe, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Chapter of Military Medicine, is supportive of these changes, and urges veterans and their treating GPs to take advantage of them.
‘The main thing GPs need to keep in mind is asking someone if they have had previous defence service, particularly if they are presenting for mental health conditions, because they may be eligible to apply for DVA [the Department of Veterans’ Affairs] to cover the cost of their [treatment] for mental health conditions,’ he told newsGP earlier this year.

Australian Defence Force Department of Veterans’ affairs military medicine veterans health


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