Sadly, rates of suicidality (suicidal thoughts, feelings or behaviours) are higher in military than civilian working men. What we really want to know is why. A new study funded by Australian Rotary Health suggests that higher exposure to trauma as a child may be associated with suicidality in military men.

PhD Scholarship recipient Dr Rebecca Sheriff at the University of Adelaide published an article last year in Psychological Medicine, looking at how childhood trauma and childhood disorder may determine suicidality in both military and civilian employed men.

She not only found that the prevalence of suicidality was substantially higher in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) than in civilian men, but also discovered that men from the ADF had higher rates of interpersonal childhood trauma, such as child abuse. Childhood anxiety was also found to be a strong predictor of suicidality in ADF men.

“Generalized Structural Equation Modelling suggested that childhood anxiety fully mediated the relationship between childhood trauma and suicidality in the ADF,” Rebecca said.

While the findings suggest that childhood trauma plays a part in suicidality, it does not include all types of trauma. Exposure to non-interpersonal trauma such as accidents, as children, does not appear to be a risk factor.

In a different analysis, Rebecca looked at childhood trauma and adult PTSD.

“Those who had interpersonal trauma as children or many different types of childhood trauma were more likely to have post-traumatic stress as adults,” Rebecca said.

“For military men, this appeared to be due to the effect the childhood trauma had on childhood disorder, but for civilians this was not necessarily the case.”

“In military men, the association of childhood trauma with PTSD appeared to be fully mediated via childhood disorder, most notably childhood depression, but not by any of the individual disorder types alone.”

Rebecca is confident that the findings from this world first study will lay the groundwork for the development of better-informed early intervention and prevention programs.

“This work has really unpacked childhood trauma as a risk factor for adult disorder and other poor outcomes in military and community populations,” Rebecca said.

“Now we have much more information to help plan early intervention and prevention strategies.”

For example, in an analysis that looked at childhood trauma by type and adult mental disorder, it appears that childhood non-interpersonal trauma, such as accidents or natural disasters was not associated with adult mental disorder in either military or civilian working men

“These men stayed in the military for a long time and were not at increased risk of mental disorders than those who had not experienced trauma as children,” Rebecca said.


Media contact: Jessica Cooper (02) 8837 1900 or