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One veteran has suicide-related contact with police, paramedics every four hours

One veteran has suicide-related contact with police, paramedics every four hours

New research conducted for the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide estimates that one serving or ex-serving Australian Defence Force member has suicide-related contact with emergency services every four hours across Australia.

Significantly, this is a conservative estimate, as the figure does not include repeat suicide-related contact for the same individual.

The release of the report follows the Royal Commission’s final public hearings in Sydney last month, with senior ministers, military chiefs and bureaucrats questioned over their response to the suicide crisis in our Defence and veteran population.

The study, led by Professor Ed Heffernan and Associate Professor Carla Meurk from the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research using linked data about Queensland veterans, revealed that past and present ADF members had 1.24 times the odds of having a suicide-related contact with police or paramedics than the general adult population.

Further, 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.

Chair of the Royal Commission Nick Kaldas said this new research challenges Defence’s long-held views that service is a protective factor against suicide and suicidality.

“For some time, there was a reluctance to accept that issues of suicide and suicidality were impacting current serving members. This research demonstrates there is a clear link between service in the ADF and suicide and suicidality, which was accepted for the first time by military chiefs at our recent Sydney hearing.”

The research found those who had a suicide-related contact with emergency services were more likely to die prematurely, from any cause, than the general population of Queensland.

The rate of death of the veteran cohort who experienced suicidality was estimated at nearly eight times that of the general Queensland population for men, and in excess of 10 times for women.

Professor Ed Heffernan said the findings indicate that police and paramedics play a key role in the first response to veterans at risk of suicide.

“It is also clear from our research that co-occurring mental and physical health conditions were far higher among veterans experiencing suicidality than other veterans, highlighting the importance of holistic health responses that address both physical and mental health needs,” Professor Heffernan said.

Associate Professor Carla Meurk added: “Accessing the right support currently can be challenging due to the complicated mental healthcare landscape and the ways it intersects with veteran-specific support services.”

Last month, the mother of Army private Jesse Bird, who died by suicide in June 2017, told the Royal Commission how the Victoria Police officers who attended her son’s death had encouraged her to push for a coronial inquest.

Dr Karen Bird said the two officers – an Australian veteran and the wife of a veteran –stressed the importance of a coronial investigation because they were "sick of turning up at the suicide of their ex-friends and associates".

Commissioner Kaldas said this research is further evidence of the size and scale of the problem the inquiry continues to grapple with.

“These figures once again highlight the national tragedy of suicide in the military and veteran community. Despite some 57 previous inquiries into these issues, the suicide rates have not decreased. We are determined to be the inquiry that brings about real change,” he said.

The Royal Commission is due to deliver its final report to the Governor-General by 9 September this year. 

Download the latest research paper on the Royal Commission's website.

This article was first published on Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide on 9 April 2024.



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In the spirit of reconciliation, the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR) acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the lands in which QCMHR operates and their continuing connections to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and stand together with all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.