2017 Veteran suicide mortality study: 1976-2012
Simkus, K., VanTil, L., & Pedlar, D.
Suicide in Canada’s Armed Forces Veteran population is tragic and a top public health concern for Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). Collaborative efforts by epidemiologists and researchers at VAC, the Department of National Defence (DND) and Statistics Canada (STC) have led to the successful linkage of military career records of over 200,000 former Regular Force and Class C Reservist CAF personnel to Canadian death records. This list of Veterans has been the foundation of the Veteran Suicide Mortality Study (VSMS), which aims to enhance the understanding of factors associated with suicide in CAF Veterans, to provide updates on suicide trends over time, to aid in the discussion of suicide prevention activities, and to respond to the ongoing public expectation for timely reporting.
Administrative data from DND was linked to 37 years of Canadian mortality data at STC. Suicides were identified by cause of death classification from provincial and territorial coroners’ reports and analysed by sex. To account for age and sex distribution differences between the Veteran and Canadian general population (CGP), Standardised Mortality Ratios were calculated to estimate the magnitude of excess risk experienced by Veterans, and age-adjusted rates were calculated to examine trends over time.
The VSMS resulted in three key findings:
Male Veterans had an overall 1.4 times higher risk of dying by suicide compared to the male CGP, with the youngest males being at highest risk.
Female Veterans had an overall 1.8 times higher risk of dying by suicide compared to the female CGP, and this was observed in both younger and older Veterans.
The risk of suicide for both male and female Veterans has generally remained higher than that of the CGP, and relatively unchanged over the past four decades. The annual rates demonstrated large fluctuations but no significant increase over time.
The higher risk of suicide for young male Veterans in Canada was similar to findings in the US, UK, and Australia. Previous VAC studies have also found a higher prevalence of mental health problems among released CAF Regular Force and deployed Reserve Force Veterans, which is of particular concern to VAC given the well-established link between certain mental health diagnoses and increased suicide risk. Findings from this study will be used to inform suicide prevention activities for CAF Veterans, while further analyses will be conducted to investigate factors associated with suicide in the Veteran population.