Youth is a key transition period in a person’s life. It is a time when decisions are made about relationships, education and career paths, employment and finances. The social, economic, environmental and technological changes that have occurred in recent decades mean that young people now face issues that previous generations may not have experienced.

Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may face additional obstacles in making a successful transition to adulthood. The effect of inter-generational trauma, racism and prejudice, and socioeconomic disadvantage are all relevant in understanding the experiences of young Indigenous people today.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent and youth health and wellbeing report was produced by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare with input from an expert advisory group and young Indigenous people. It provides a comprehensive information on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous youth.

Young Indigenous people

A total of 241,824 Indigenous people aged 10–24 lived in Australia in 2016, representing 5% of the total Australian youth population. Most young Indigenous people lived in non-remote areas of Australia, including Major cities and Inner and outer regional areas. Indigenous youth, however, represented a greater proportion of the total youth population that lived in less urban areas, such as Remote and Very remote areas of the country.

Social determinants and health risk factors

In 2016, around 2 in 5 Indigenous people aged 15–24 were fully engaged in full-time work, full-time study or combining both. The proportion of Indigenous people aged 20–24 who had Year 12 or equivalent attainment increased from 47% in 2006 to 65% in 2016.

In 2016, 4% of Indigenous people aged 10–24 were classified as homeless.

The proportion of Indigenous people aged 15–24 who smoked daily declined from 45% in 2002 to 31% in 2014–15. Nearly one-third of young Indigenous people, however, are current daily smokers.

Most Indigenous people aged 10–14 (54%) and 15–17 (58%) were in the normal weight range in 2012–13. For youths aged 18–24, just over one-third (34%) were within the normal weight range.


In 2014–15 over three-quarters (76%) of Indigenous people aged 15–24 said, they were happy all or most of the time in the previous 4 weeks. More than 6 in 10 (61%) Indigenous people aged 10 to 24 recognised their traditional homelands or traditional country, and over two-thirds (69%) were involved in cultural events in the previous 12 months.

Around two-thirds of Indigenous people aged 15–24 experienced 1 or more personal stressors in the previous year, the most common being not being able to get a job, and 1 in 3 reported being treated unfairly because they were Indigenous.

Most Indigenous people aged 15–24 (67%) experienced low to moderate levels of psychological distress in the previous month, while 33% experienced high to very high levels.

Health status and outcomes

More than 6 in 10 Indigenous youth considered themselves to be in excellent or very good health in 2012–13. The most prevalent long-term health conditions reported by young Indigenous people were respiratory diseases, such as asthma, and eye and vision problems.

Burden of disease analyses show that for Indigenous people aged 10–24 the leading contributors to the disease burden were suicide and self-inflicted injuries (13%), anxiety disorders (8%), alcohol use disorders (7%) and road traffic accidents (6%).

The mortality rate for young Indigenous people has declined, from 70 per 100,000 in 2005 to

67 per 100,000 in 2015. In the period, 2011–2015 there were 674 deaths recorded for Indigenous people aged 10–24. Injury and poisoning accounted for the majority of these deaths, including suicides, land transport accidents and assaults.

Most of these deaths are potentially avoidable. Around 83% of deaths of young Indigenous people in 2011–2015 were classified as avoidable deaths.

Health and welfare services

There was an increase in the proportion of Indigenous youth receiving an Indigenous health check between 2010 (6%) and 2016 (22%). In 2015–16, Indigenous youth represented a third of all treatment episodes provided by alcohol and other drug treatment services.

Almost 9,000 Indigenous people aged 10–17 were on care and protection orders at 30 June 2017,

and nearly 8,000 were in out-of-home care. Young Indigenous people continued to be over represented in the justice system, representing 43% of young people in youth-justice supervision in 2014–15.

Data gaps

Data on some important issues affecting young Indigenous people are lacking. Some of the key data gaps include culturally appropriate data that measures wellbeing, treatment of mental health conditions, data on sexual health including use of contraception and sexual health services, use of primary health care services, and survey data for the 10–14 year age group.

A bright future, but not without challenges

The report highlights the education, language and cultural capital of young Indigenous people among other strengths. It shows that young Indigenous people are in good health and that their mortality rates have fallen.

Yet, there are aspects of young Indigenous people’s health and wellbeing that require attention. Some of the issues identified include tobacco smoking, alcohol and substance use, mental health problems, injuries and experiences of violence.

Most of the deaths of young Indigenous people are due to potentially avoidable conditions given timely and effective health care. It is therefore important that services are available and accessible to Indigenous youth that facilitate health and happiness and provide support in times of need.