The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ national study of mental health and wellbeing released today, highlights the prevalence of mental ill-health and distress, and gives us further evidence of the urgent need for system reform.
Given the study excluded people in ‘non-private’ dwellings (such as hotels, motels, hostels, hospitals, nursing homes, short-stay accommodation, boarding houses, and institutions) and those experiencing homelessness, it is likely these results underestimate the prevalence of mental ill-health and distress amongst Australians.
Even so, the results are a stark reminder of how common distress and mental ill-health is, and how imperative it is to reform our mental health system to meet the growing mental health needs of Australians.
This study showed almost half (44%) of Australian adults – 8.6 million people – have experienced a mental health condition at some point in their life.
Further insights from the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing published today, found that in 2020-21:
15% of Australians reported experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress – with females (19%) more likely to experience this than males (12%)
one in five people (20%) aged 16-34 years experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress – more than twice the rate of those aged 65-85 years
one in six Australians (17%) aged 16-85 years had experienced suicidal thoughts or behaviours in their life
3.4 million Australians saw a health professional for their mental health
of people experiencing a mental health condition who saw a health professional, nearly 30% reported not have their need for counselling fully met, and 26% not having their need for information fully met.
These results indicate that unfortunately the rates of mental ill-health have not seen enough change since the last survey undertaken in 2007, which found 45% of Australian adults experienced a mental health condition in their lifetime and 20% in any given year.
Our sector is witness to countless stories of people who have found their way through the impacts of distress and mental-ill health to recovery and greater wellbeing. Incredible people and organisations have been working tirelessly to deliver effective mental health support and treatment. Yet at a national level, the numbers of people experiencing mental ill-health continues to climb.
We need to think differently about mental health support in this country. The Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health called for generational reform to create a person-centred mental health system.
While some of the wheels have been put in motion to bring about this change (for example, through the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement), the findings from this study show just how much more work is required.
An effective, integrated system of community-focused mental health treatment and support requires strong integration with sectors aimed at addressing the social determinants of mental health. To prevent distress and prevent or soften the experience of mental ill-health and the impact in people’s lives.
Addressing the social determinants of mental health is also a key step to reach our vision to see a reduction in suicides.
To support people early, we need to build genuine accountability into the system and eliminate the social and economic impacts that can contribute to distress. We need to have whole of government approaches to tackle the social determinants of health; lived experience leadership embedded into policy and practice; improved and transparent data systems; implementation of a community based mental health service system and we need to address the gaps in the suicide prevention and mental health workforces.
The National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing paints a clear picture – fundamental reform is required to reverse the trend, and improve Australian’s mental health and wellbeing. The study also give us up-to-date data that is essential for planning and prioritising delivery of mental health services.
Dr Leanne Beagley