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Young ex-servicemen most at risk of suicide

At least 325 serving and former Australian Defence Force personnel died by suicide between 2001 and 2015, according to a major new report that highlights the dangers leaving the military can pose to vulnerable servicemen.

Young ex-servicemen were most at risk, the report found.

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Suicide prevention a priority

The government will prioritise helping former ADF members under the age of 30 after a report revealed they're at higher risk of suicide than other people their age.

Men aged 18-24, who were no longer serving with the armed forces, were twice as likely to die by suicide than men of the same age in the general population.

The new figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare are "the first accurate, robust data ever produced on suicide" in the ADF community, Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel Dan Tehan said, launching the report.

Of the 325 who died, 51 per cent were no longer serving, 28 per cent were serving full time, and 21 per cent were in the Reserves. Men, who comprise 85 per cent of ADF personnel, accounted for 93 per cent of the suicides and were the focus of the study.

Further confirming the mental health challenges posed by leaving military service, the rate of suicides among former ADF personnel was 26 per 100,000, compared with about 12 per 100,000 people - men and women - in the overall Australian population. Serving personnel, however, were significantly less likely to die by suicide than the average Australian.

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Men who had been involuntarily discharged from the ADF were 2.4 times more likely to die by suicide than those who left service voluntarily.

Those who left the ADF within a year of enlisting were also more likely to die from suicide than those who served for more than a decade. Men who did not hold an officer rank were almost three times as likely to die by suicide than former officers.

Importantly, the study notes that only confirmed suicides were considered and the analysis "may exclude an unknown number of deaths that were suspected to be suicide deaths" but officially attributed to another cause by coronial investigations.

While young ex-servicemen aged 18-24 were twice as likely to take their own lives than other men, once all age groups were taken into account, ex-servicemen were generally 14 per cent more likely to die by suicide than Australian men generally. Serving personnel, however, were significantly less likely to than the average Australian.

The report builds on preliminary figures released in 2016 and a landmark review by the National Mental Health Commission of suicide and self-harm prevention services available to ADF members and veterans.

"The AIHW study is an important part of the Government's action on improving mental health and preventing suicide among current and former ADF personnel," Mr Tehan said.

The government's May budget outlined almost $60 million in additional mental health funding for the Department of Veterans' Affairs, including uncapped treatment for mental illness available to anyone who has served one day full-time.

Starting in July, the AIHW will monitor and report on the health and welfare needs of veterans and their families in a new arrangement with the DVA.

Labor has also announced that, if elected, it would develop a strategy for family support of ADF personnel and veterans, a recommendation of the NMHC's review.

Friday's report also pointed to specific characteristics that further elevated the risk of suicide among ex-servicemen.

"Men who were discharged involuntarily from the ADF were 2.4 times more likely to die by suicide than those who discharged voluntarily,' AIHW director and CEO Barry Sandison said.

"And if their involuntary discharge was for medical reasons, they were 3.6 times more likely than those discharged for voluntary reasons."

In a statement, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor's veterans' affairs spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth said "ADF families play a pivotal role in supporting our current serving ADF men, women and veterans".

"Developing a family engagement and support strategy will enable us to identify where we can provide greater support to military families - those who matter most to our ADF personnel and veterans; their wives, husbands, sons and daughters," they said.

Lifeline 13 11 14; MensLine 1300 789 978; Beyondblue 1300 224 636