Youth is a key transition period in a person’s life. The health of young people can influence how likely they are to achieve better educational outcomes, make a successful transition into full-time work, develop healthy adult lifestyles, and experience fewer challenges forming families and parenting (AIHW 2021b). A recent survey of youth found that physical and mental health was highly valued by young people, with a majority regarding it as ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important (Tiller et al. 2021).

Profile of young people

Who are Australia’s young people?

On this page, young people are defined as those aged 12–24. This is consistent with the age breakdowns for the National Youth Information Framework (NYIF) and complements the Children’s Headline Indicators. This age range also includes 3 main stages of adolescence: early, middle, and late.

However, definitions of young people will vary between data sources according to different frameworks, policies and legislation. Often, data are available only for those aged 15 and over. In these instances, data for those aged 15–24 will be reported instead. For information about children aged 0–12, see Health of children.

At 30 June 2021, an estimated 3.1 million young people aged 15–24 lived in Australia. Just over half of these people were male (51%, or 1.6 million) and 49% (1.5 million) were female. Young people aged 15–24 made up 12% of the total population (ABS 2021a).

Since early 2020, COVID-19 has emerged as a major health threat to young people in Australia. While COVID-19 affects people in different ways, the social and economic impacts on young people have been substantial. In the initial months following the emergence of COVID-19 in Australia, young people experienced greater levels of psychological distress, loneliness, educational disruption, unemployment, housing stress and domestic violence, compared with pre-pandemic levels. The full impact of COVID-19 is complex and further monitoring is required to understand the longer-term impacts on young people’s wellbeing (AIHW 2021d).

Health status

Burden of disease

The burden of disease is the quantified impact of a disease or injury on a population, which captures health loss, or years of healthy life lost through premature death or living with ill-health (see Burden of disease). For young people, the leading causes of total burden varied between males and females aged 15–24. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries were the leading cause of total burden among males, and anxiety disorders were the leading cause among females (Figure 1) (AIHW 2021a).

This horizontal bar chart shows the top five leading causes of total burden among young people by sex for 2018. The leading cause of burden for females was anxiety disorders (11%), followed by: depressive disorders (8.7%), eating disorders (6.8%), asthma (5.6%), and suicide/self-inflicted injuries (5.6%). For males, the leading cause of burden was suicide/self-inflicted injuries (14.3%), followed by: alcohol use disorders (7.1%), depressive disorders (5.3%), road traffic injuries/motor vehicle occupant (5.2%), and asthma (5.0%).

Mental health

Why is the most recent data from 2017–18?

Nationally representative estimates on mental health are derived from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) National Health Survey (NHS).

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of psychological distress were not reported at the time of the NHS 2020–21, the most recent NHS.

The figures presented in this snapshot reflect the latest nationally representative data for rates of psychological distress.   

According to self-reported data from the NHS, rates of high or very high psychological distress in young people increased between 2011–12 and 2017–18. In 2011–12, 12% (258,000) of people aged 18–24 experienced high or very high psychological distress compared with 15% (339,000) of young people in 2017–18. In 2017–18, young women (18%) were more likely to experience high or very high psychological distress than young men (12%) (ABS 2012, 2019a).

Findings from the Australian National University Centre for Social Research and Methods COVID-19 Impact Monitoring Survey Program showed that experiences of psychological distress among people aged 18–24 were significantly higher in April 2020 than pre-pandemic levels (February 2017). Rates of psychological distress remained higher on average for young people in the second half of 2020 and during 2021, and this has continued into January 2022. Conversely, reduced levels of psychological distress were observed for older age groups, on average, when compared with pre-pandemic levels (AIHW 2022e; Biddle and Gray 2022) (see ‘Chapter 8 Mental health of young Australians’ in Australia’s health 2022: data insights). 

Based on The Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (also known as the Young Minds Matter survey) undertaken in 2013–14, around 14% of children aged 12–17 met the clinical criteria for one or more mental disorders in the previous 12 months (Lawrence et al. 2015). Anxiety disorders (7.0%) were the most common (Table 1). Young males were more likely than young females to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or conduct disorder, while young females were more likely than young males to have anxiety or a major depressive disorder.

See Mental health.

Table 1: Prevalence of mental disorders among people aged 12–17, by sex, 2013–14

Disorder

Males (%)

Females (%)

Persons (%)

Anxiety disorders

6.3

7.7

7.0

ADHD

9.8

2.7

6.3

Major depressive disorder

4.3

5.8

5.0

Conduct disorder

2.6

1.6

2.1

Any mental disorder(a)

15.9

12.8

14.4

(a) Totals are lower than the sum of disorders as young people may have had more than 1 class of mental disorder in the previous 12 months.

 Source: Lawrence et al. 2015.

In 2013–14, the Young Minds Matter survey found that around 11% of people aged 12–17 had ever deliberately hurt or injured themselves without trying to end their life (self-harmed). Of those young people who had self-harmed, almost three-quarters (73%) had harmed themselves in the previous 12 months. Females aged 16–17 had the highest rates of self-harm, with 17% having harmed themselves in the previous 12 months (Lawrence et al. 2015).

See Suicide and intentional self-harm.

Disability

In 2018, based on self-reported data from the ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), 9.3% of people aged 15–24 had disability (around 291,000 people) (ABS 2019c). The prevalence of disability was similar for males (9.2%) and females (9.5%). Of young people with disability:

  • 3.4% had severe or profound core activity limitations.
  • 6.9% had schooling or employment restrictions (ABS 2019c).

The prevalence of young people with disability was similar in 2003 and 2018 (9.0% and 9.3%, respectively), with some fluctuation in the intervening surveys (6.6% in 2009 and 7.8% in 2012) (ABS 2019c).

See Health of people with disability for more information.

Injuries

In 2019–20, there were around 67,300 hospitalised injury cases among people aged 15–24 due to injury or poisoning – a rate of 2,100 per 100,000 (AIHW 2022c).

See Injury.

In 2019–20 the leading causes of injuries for young people were transport accidents, contact with objects (such as being struck or cut by something other than another human or animal) and intentional self-harm (Figure 2).

This horizontal bar chart shows that in 2019–20, transport accidents (19%), injury from contact with objects (18%) and intentional self-harm (14%) were the 3 leading causes of injury among young people aged 15–24.

Visualisation not available for printing

Deaths

In 2020, the death rate among people aged 15–24 was 38 deaths per 100,000. The death rate among young people fell between 2009 and 2020, from 41 deaths per 100,000 to 38 deaths per 100,000, respectively. Death rates were higher among young males (53 per 100,000) than females (21 per 100,000) (AIHW 2022b).

Injuries were the leading cause of death among young people, accounting for 877 of the 1,200 (73%) deaths for 15–24-year-olds. More than half (52%) of all injury deaths were caused by intentional self-harm (suicide), followed by land transport accidents (24%) and accidental poisoning (10%) (AIHW 2022a, 2022b).  

In 2020, young people accounted for 14% of all intentional self-harm deaths. The age-specific rate of intentional self-harm among young people was 14 per 100,000 – an increase from a rate of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2009. The rate of suicide was higher among young males (21 per 100,000) than females (6.7 per 100,000) (AIHW 2022b).

A rise in mental health service use and an increase in severe psychological distress were observed during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. However, there is no evidence to date that COVID-19 has been associated with an increase in suspected deaths by suicide in the general population (AIHW 2021d, 2022e). See ‘Chapter 8 Mental health of young Australians’ in Australia’s health 2022: data insights.

As of 24 May 2022, there had been 6 COVID-19–related deaths in the 10–19 age group and 24 in the 20–29 age group since the beginning of the COVID-19 response in late January 2020 (Department of Health 2022a). For the most recent data on cases and deaths, see the Department of Health’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) case numbers and statistics.

See Causes of death and Suicide and intentional self-harm for more information.

Health risk factors

Overweight and obesity

Why is the most recent data from 2017–18?

Nationally representative estimates on overweight and obesity are derived from the ABS’ National Health Survey (NHS).

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, physical measurements (including height, weight and waist circumference) were not taken at the time of the NHS 2020–21, the most recent NHS.

While self-reported height and weight were collected as part of the survey, self-reported data underestimates actual levels of overweight and obesity based on objective measurements (ABS 2018b). 

As self-reported and measured rates of overweight and obesity should not be directly compared, the figures presented in this snapshot reflect the latest nationally representative data based on measured body mass index.

A healthy body weight is an important factor in young people’s current and future health, with young people considered overweight or obese more likely to become or remain obese as adults (AIHW 2021c).

Based on measured data from the 2017–18 NHS, it was estimated that:

  • More than 1 in 4 (27% or 226,800) 15–17-year-olds were either overweight (18% or 151,300) or obese (9.3% or 78,300).
  • Slightly more than 9 in 20 (46% or 1.0 million) 18–24-year-olds were overweight (30% or 676,700) or obese (16% or 347,300) (ABS 2019a).

For further detail of how overweight and obesity is defined and measured, see Overweight and obesity.

Substance use

Data from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) are available to report on substance use among people aged 14–24. Self-reported data from the 2019 NDSHS found that 97% of people aged 14–17 and 80% of people aged 18–24 had never smoked tobacco (AIHW 2020).

Fewer young people are taking up smoking

The proportion of people aged 14–17 who had never smoked increased from 82% in 2001 to 97% in 2019.  

The proportion of 14–17-year-olds who were daily smokers decreased from 11% in 2001 to 1.9% in 2019. However, the estimate for 2019 should be interpreted with caution as the relative standard error (see glossary) is between 25% and 50%.

Nationally, there has been an increase in e-cigarette use, and this was most notable in younger age groups (AIHW 2020). In 2019, nearly 2 in 3 (64%) current smokers aged 14–17 or 18–24 reported they had ever used e-cigarettes. While this increased for both age groups since 2016 (51% and 49%, respectively), the increase was only significant for young people aged 18–24. Among non-smokers, the proportion of 14–17-year-olds that had ever used e-cigarettes remained consistent between 2016 and 2019 at around 8.0%; while for 18–24-year-olds, it increased from 13.6% in 2016 to 19.6% in 2019 (AIHW 2020). 

Evidence for the long-term health impacts of e-cigarettes is limited. However, a recent literature review by the Australian National University Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH) indicated that e-cigarettes are particularly harmful for young non-smokers, and may increase tobacco smoking uptake (Banks et al. 2022). 

In 2019, two-thirds (66%) of people aged 14–17 had never had a full serve of alcohol, compared with only 15% of those aged 18–24. The proportion of 14–17-year-olds consuming 5 or more drinks at least monthly remained stable between 2016 and 2019 (8.0% and 8.9%, respectively) but has declined since 2001 (30%) (AIHW 2020).

The National Health Survey (NHS) 2020–21 reported on smoking and alcohol consumption among 15–24-year-olds. Survey responses were collected online during the COVID-19 pandemic and is a break in time series. Data should be used for point-in-time analysis only and can’t be compared to previous years. Estimates using self-reported data show that in 2020–21, 1.4% of 15–17-year-olds were daily smokers and the majority (73%) reported they had never consumed a full serve of alcohol. In comparison, 8.3% of 18–24-year-olds were daily smokers and 12% had never consumed a full serve of alcohol (ABS 2022a, 2022b).

The 2019 NDSHS showed there were no significant declines among 14–17-year-olds in recent illicit drug use (at least once in the past 12 months) between 2016 and 2019. However, recent use was considerably lower in 2019 (9.7%) than in 2001 (23%), and use of cannabis fell from 21% to 8.2% over this period (AIHW 2020).

For more detailed information about substance use among Australians, see Tobacco, Alcohol and Illicit drug use.

Sexual and reproductive health

In 2018, the sixth National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health found:

  • Most students in Years 10, 11 and 12 had engaged in some form of sexual activity, from deep kissing (74%) to sexual intercourse (47%).
  • Most sexually active students reported that they had discussed having sex (81%) and protecting their sexual health (77%) prior to sex, and were using condoms (57%) and/or oral contraception (41%).
  • One-third (33%) of students reported ‘sexting’ in the previous 2 months (mostly with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or friend) (Fisher et al. 2019).

A large proportion of students (79%) had accessed the internet to find answers to sexual health information, but the most trusted sources of information were: general practitioners (GP) (89%), followed by mothers (60%) and community health services (55%) (Fisher et al. 2019).

Health care

Mental health services

In 2019–20, people aged 12–24 made up 21% (587,000) of all people receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services (AIHW 2022d). Across different service providers, people aged 12–24 accounted for:

  • 20% (85,800) of people receiving services from psychiatrists
  • 22% (496,000) of people receiving services from general practitioners
  • 22% (127,000) of people receiving services from clinical psychologists
  • 24% (176,000) of people receiving services from other psychologists
  • 24% (27,600) of people receiving services from other allied health providers (AIHW 2022d).

See Mental health services.

Immunisations

The National HPV Vaccination Program has been immunising adolescent girls since 2007 and was extended to boys in 2013. Immunisation against the human papillomavirus (HPV) can prevent cervical and other cancers, and other HPV-related diseases.

In 2020, the proportion of 15-year-olds who were fully immunised against HPV was:

  • 81% of girls, an increase from 80% in 2019
  • 78% of boys, an increase from 77% in 2019 (NCIRS 2021).

As of 30 April 2022, among people aged 16–24:

  • 91% had received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination.
  • 89% had been fully vaccinated (Department of Health 2022b).

Females (90%) were slightly more likely than males (87%) to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. For the most recent vaccination data, see the Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccination – vaccination data (Department of Health 2022b).

See Immunisation and vaccination. For more information on the health impact of the pandemic, See ‘Chapter 1 The impact of a new disease: COVID-19 from 2020, 2021 and into 2022’ in Australia’s health 2022: data insights.

Patient experiences

The ABS Patient Experiences in Australia survey collects information about access and barriers to a range of health care services. The 2020–21 survey included new questions to try and better understand the impact of COVID-19 with particular focus on the introduction of telehealth appointments.

Among people aged 15–24, females (29%) were more likely than males (14%) to have used a telehealth appointment for their own health in the last 12 months before the survey. The most common health service used by young people was a GP (Figure 3).  

In 2020–21, most young people who saw a GP said the GP always: listened carefully (71%), showed respect (79%), and spent enough time with them (72%). Additionally, less young people reported waiting longer than they felt was acceptable to get an appointment in 2020–21 (13%) compared with 2018–19 (19%) (ABS 2019b, 2021b). 

This horizontal bar chart shows that in 2020–21, the most common health service used by people aged 15–24 in the 12 months before the survey was: seeing a general practitioner (GP) (80%), followed by receiving a prescription for medication (62%), and seeing a dental professional (55%).

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on the health of young people, see:

Visit Children & youth for more on this topic.

If you or someone you know needs help please call:

Lifeline 13 11 14

Suicide call back service 1300 659 467

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800