How Australia, The US and Canada keep track of ex-military suicide rates

A psychologist at a leading veterans charity says it is important that more research is carried out in order to find out if a spike in military veteran suicides among the UK’s allies is also reflected among British ex-service personnel.

Dr Dominic Murphy, a senior clinical lecturer at Combat Stress, says that the lack of data on the issue is a ‘red light’ for those concerned about veterans’ welfare.

More must be done to look after our veterans

More must be done to look after our veterans

In America, where the death records of every veteran are collected by a dedicated Washington department, the suicide rate increased by 35 per cent between 2001 and 2016.

A study by the Department for Veteran Affairs found that in 2015 the suicide rate was 2.1 times higher among US former military personnel compared with the civilian population.

In Australia, an official report in January this year found the suicide rate from 2002–2015 was 14 per cent higher among male veterans than all Australian men, after adjusting for age.

A Canadian government study based on records from 1976 to 2012 found that its veterans were at a “significantly higher risk of death by suicide” compared to civilians. The age-adjusted suicide rate for male veterans was 40 per cent higher compared to civilians and for female veterans the figure was 80 per cent.

There is no such equivalent information for the United Kingdom.

A leading clinician at Combat Stress, which is currently treating more than 3,000 veterans, said reliable suicide data was vital to understand whether Britain was experiencing a similar sharp increase to its allies and the lack of this data is a “red light” for those working with ex-servicemen and women.

Dr Dominic Murphy told JP Investigations: “We don’t actually know those rates. From the mid-noughties onwards there has been a higher rate of suicide among American, Canadian and Australian veterans and some of our European allies and we just don’t know [the situation] in the UK because the last study was in 2009.

“One could argue that it might coincide with the end of… the active war fighting phase in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are still low prevalence rates but any increase is very worrying, it is a very negative outcome. For me it is a red light that we need to actually fill this gap with data.”

More stories as part of this investigation

Ex-serviceman who battled suicidal thoughts backs our military suicides campaign

Sussex coroners quiet on military suicide figures amid calls for better recording of veteran deaths