ADF database to collect suicide figures from 1970s onwards to help tackle self-harm rates

ADF database to collect suicide figures from 1970s onwards to help tackle self-harm rates

ADF database to collect suicide figures from 1970s onwards to help tackle self-harm rates

Updated 8 April 2015, 16:35 AEST

A new ADF database on diggers who have taken their own lives could end up benefiting the whole of Australia, a suicide expert says.

The Australian Defence Force is compiling a database which will pull together data on suicide figures among serving and former personnel dating back as far as the end of the Vietnam War.

Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin says he hopes the database will help inform Government suicide prevention programs.

The database was commissioned by the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the research will be conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

It will identify the number of people who were in full-time service since October 1972 and who have died since January 1990.

The data will be handed to the Government's suicide prevention programs.

Army veteran Oisin Donohoe is part of a group called Overwatch, which supports veterans around the country.

"We found out there were veterans and ex-servicemen in the community that were from time to time struggling with their lives due to stuff like PTSD or anger issues and stuff like that," he said.

"From that we developed Overwatch as a point of call and point of contact for anybody who was feeling like that to be able to get the resources they needed through either help with DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs), help with their Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service and what not.

"But what we also do is a bit of an early intervention process.

"So, for example, in the past year that we've been active, we've prevented about five suicides. Most recently we've been helping out a young veteran who has unfortunately had his relationship break down and we're now trying to get him back on his feet."

Overwatch collects its own data on the number of former servicemen, women and veterans who have committed suicide.

Mr Donohoe said this is an important information to have.

"I think having more accurate sets of numbers to go off is a good thing," he said.

"Unfortunately in the past people like DVA and the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service haven't been putting out the most accurate numbers.

"We estimated that since 1986 there's been at least over 200 suicides that have been completed by ex-servicemen and veterans.

"So, I think a more accurate picture of what's going on in the community needs to be established and therefore shown to the public, because this is an issue that is on the rise very quickly.

"With the amount of veterans that we have coming back from places of conflict like Iraq and Afghanistan, because those numbers are in the thousands, we are potentially looking at quite a large amount of cases where there are young people or young veterans out there that are dealing with this issues," he added.

"If we go by without having them helped out then potentially that could be another suicide by the end of the day."

Research fellow at the University of New England's School of Health Dr Kathy McKay says the ADF study could be beneficial to the whole nation.

"It will add an enormous amount to our knowledge around mental health and suicidality among veterans simply because we don't have a national way that consistently measures who dies by suicide, and, more specifically, details about them," she said.

"We have different policies or programs in specific states that might do this but nothing that's at this sort of more national level and specifically looking at a group like veterans who are so vulnerable to suicidality."

One-hundred-and-six serving ADF members have committed suicide since January 2000.

The Senate is also conducting an inquiry into the mental health of former Defence Force staff.