Data shows mental ill-health in Australia

The mental health data in the wellbeing framework doesn't cover the years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Getty

The mental health data in the wellbeing framework doesn't cover the years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Getty Photo: Getty

One-in-six Australians have experienced suicidal thoughts or behaviours in their lifetime and more than two-in-five have had a mental health disorder.

Those are the findings of a comprehensive study on mental health and wellbeing conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

It’s the first time in 15 years a study of this kind has been undertaken by the ABS, aiming to understand the impact of mental ill-health in Australia.

The ABS surveyed Australians aged 16 to 85 to paint a comprehensive picture of mental disorders in the community.

For the first time, the study gathered data from people on their lived experiences with suicide, self harm and binge eating.

It found almost two-in-five people had a been close to someone who had died by or attempted suicide.

In 2020/21 specifically, one-in-five people experienced a mental health disorder, with anxiety being the most common.

Surveys like this can help show people they are not alone and can seek help, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health Ruth Vine said.

“It reinforces that … many of us will know a person who’s struggled and who has recovered and even grown in some ways through that experience,” she told reporters.

More than one-in-five people rated their weight or shape as being very important to how they thought about themselves as a person and one-in-20 had experienced binge eating in their lifetime.

“We know that social media is both a good … but also at times a harm if people who are vulnerable are accessing social media that might be focusing on body image,” Dr Vine said.

The study found nearly 40 per cent of people aged 16 to 24 experienced mental ill-health in 2020/21.

Young women were more likely to report an experience of mental disorder, with almost half in the age group saying they had during COVID-19.

Dr Vine said the prevalence of mental health distress in young people is something many countries are grappling with.

“These sorts of studies really do inform service planning and mental health reform,” she said.

“I think there is action being taken and what this (survey) does is reaffirm the importance of that and also provide greater detail of where the (service) emphasis might be.”

Nearly 45 per cent of people in the LGBTQI community experienced anxiety and three in 10 reported an experience with affective disorder such as depression.

Harmful alcohol use was more common among men, who were also more than twice as likely as women to have had a substance use disorder.

The study also looked at mental health support services available in Australia and whether they are making a difference.

Some 3.4 million Australians had at least one consultation for their mental health in 2020/21 and general practitioners were the most commonly consulted.

More than 24 per cent of people aged 16 to 34 saw someone for their mental health.

This compares with 16.8 per cent of 35 to 64 year olds and 7.5 per cent of over-65s.

Women were more likely to seek help, and more than half all females with a mental disorder reported seeing a health professional compared with 37 per cent of all males.

Three-in-five people took personal actions to help improve their mental health such as increasing their level of exercise or physical activity.

More than 5500 Australians were surveyed by the ABS for the study and their results were converted into estimates for the rest of the population.

Results from the second cohort of 11500 people are due to be published in 2023.

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