Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Mental health: prevalence and impact , AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 18 August 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Mental health: prevalence and impact . Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mental-health-services/mental-health
Mental health: prevalence and impact . Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 07 July 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mental-health-services/mental-health
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Mental health: prevalence and impact [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2022 Aug. 18]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mental-health-services/mental-health
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Mental health: prevalence and impact , viewed 18 August 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mental-health-services/mental-health
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Mental health is a key component of overall health and wellbeing (WHO 2013). The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted in 2007 found that an estimated 1 in 5 (20%) Australians aged 16–85 experienced a mental disorder in the previous 12 months (ABS 2008). A mental illness can be defined as ‘a clinically diagnosable disorder that significantly interferes with a person’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities’ (COAG Health Council 2017). The term itself covers a range of illnesses including anxiety disorders, affective disorders, psychotic disorders and substance use disorders.
However, a person does not need to meet the criteria for a mental illness or mental disorder to be negatively affected by their mental health (COAG Health Council 2017; Slade et al. 2009). Mental health impacts and is impacted by multiple socioeconomic factors, including a person’s access to services, living conditions and employment status. Mental health affects not only the individual but also their families and carers (Slade et al. 2009; WHO 2013).
The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing was a program of 3 targeted mental health epidemiological surveys that based their classification of mental disorders on existing diagnostic criteria to estimate prevalence (ABS 2008). The 3 surveys included the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, the National Survey of People Living with Psychotic Illness, and the Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (AIHW 2020). The data obtained from these surveys are due to be updated in 2020–21 as part of the Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study, which will consist of 4 surveys over 3 years (ABS 2019; AHHA 2019). The National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing will update data on the prevalence of mental disorders from 2007. Another source of information about the mental health of Australians is the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) National Health Survey 2017–18, which provides data on a range of health conditions including mental and behavioural disorders. The National Health Survey estimates are based on self-reported data and record a participant as having a mental or behavioural condition during the collection period only if it was also reported as long-term (had lasted, or was expected to last, a minimum of 6 months) (ABS 2018).
Together, these surveys provide an overview of the prevalence of mental disorders in Australia.
The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing estimated that:
The National Survey of People Living with a Psychotic Illness 2010 estimated that:
The Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing 2013–14 (Young Minds Matter) estimated that, in the 12 months before the survey:
The National Health Survey 2017–18 estimated that:
Why is the most recent data from 2017–18
The National Health Survey 2020–21 was collected online during the COVID-19 pandemic and is a break in time series. Data should be used as point-in-time analysis only and can’t be compared to previous years.
Figure 1: Proportion of Australians with a current long-term mental or behavioural condition, by age group and sex, in 2017-18
This chart shows the proportion of persons with a mental or behavioural condition in 2017–18 by age group and sex. For persons aged 0–14 years, males have a higher rate of current long-term mental or behavioural conditions than females. In all other age groups, females have a higher rate than males. This difference is most pronounced for those aged 15–24.
The potential for COVID-19 to impact mental health and wellbeing was recognised early in the pandemic (WHO 2020). In addition to concerns around contracting the virus itself, some of the measures necessary to contain its spread were also likely to negatively impact mental health (NHMC 2020). Widespread movement restrictions, social distancing measures and physical isolation, or ‘lockdowns’ were implemented from March 2020. The sudden loss of employment and social interaction, the added stress of moving to remote work or schooling and impacts of sudden ‘localised’ lockdowns to prevent further outbreaks have impacted the mental health of many Australians. Stress, confusion and anger are commonplace as a result of the pandemic (Brooks et al. 2020) and, while many people may not experience any long-term concerns, the pandemic has the potential to contribute to or exacerbate long-term mental illness.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, research has gathered evidence revealing heightened psychological distress during the pandemic (Aknin et al. 2021). There was a rise in the use of mental health services, which continues, and an increase in psychological distress during 2020. COVID-19 has not been associated with a rise in suspected deaths by suicide. See COVID-19 Impact on mental health for more information.
Mental illness affects not just the individual but the wider community as well. The total burden of disease on a population is defined as the combined loss of years of healthy life due to premature death (known as fatal burden) and living with ill health (known as non-fatal burden).
Mental and substance use disorders contributed 13% of Australia’s total burden of disease in 2018, making it the fourth highest disease group. Of the total burden caused by mental and substance use disorders, 98% was due to living with the effects of these disorders (AIHW 2019). Mental and substance use disorders were the second highest disease group contributing to non-fatal burden (24%) after the first-ranked musculoskeletal conditions (24%). See Burden of disease.
There is a substantial difference in the disease burden of mental health on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared with non-Indigenous Australians. In 2011, the years of healthy life lost per 1,000 people due to mental and substance use disorders among Indigenous Australians was 2.4 times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians (57.8 compared with 23.6) (AIHW 2016). See Indigenous health and wellbeing.
For individuals who have a mental illness, suicidality – a term that encompasses suicide plans, attempts and ideation – is more prevalent than for those who have no mental illness. According to the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, almost 1 in 12 (8.6%) people who reported a mental illness in the preceding 12 months reported being suicidal in this period; 0.8% of people who did not report a mental illness reported suicidality in that same period (ABS 2008). Overall, 72% of people who exhibited suicidality reported a mental illness in the preceding 12 months (ABS 2008). See Suicide and intentional self-harm.
A person may also have more than one type of condition at a time. The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing estimated that 3.2% of Australians aged 16–85 had experienced more than one mental disorder in the previous 12 months, and 11.7% had experienced a mental disorder and a physical condition in the previous 12 months (ABS 2008). See Physical health of people with mental illness for more information.
Information on mental health treatment and management in Australia can be found in Mental health services in Australia.
More information on mental health can be found at:
Visit Mental health services for more information on this topic.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call:
Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2008) National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: summary of results, 2007. ABS, Australian Government, accessed 24 February 2022.
ABS (2018) National Health Survey: first results, 2017–18, ABS, Australian Government, accessed 28 February 2022.
ABS (2019) Forward work program, 2019–20, ABS, Australian Government, accessed 22 February 2022.
AHHA (The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association) (2019) Investment in health surveys, mental health and prevention money well spent, AHHA, accessed 24 February 2022.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) (2016) Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2011, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 22 February 2022.
AIHW (2020) Mental health services in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 15 February 2022.
AIHW (2021) Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2018, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 15 February 2022.
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Brooks SK, Webster RK, Smith LE, Woodland L, Wessely S, Greenberg N and Rubin GJ (2020) ‘The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence’, The Lancet, 395(10227): 912–920. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30460-8.
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