This week the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the 2020-2022 National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, Australia’s largest mental health study.
This new data shows that while overall the proportion of the population experiencing mental ill-health has not changed markedly since 2007, particular population groups are experiencing significantly higher rates of mental ill-health.
The 2020-2022 data shows that one in five people in Australia (21.5% or 4.3 million people) had experienced a mental health condition in the last year, and 42.9% have experienced a mental health condition at some point in their life.
Since 2007, there has been a significant increase in the rate of mental ill-health amongst young people, with nearly half (45.5%) of young women 16-24 years old experiencing a mental health condition in the previous year, compared to 30.1% in 2007. One in three young men (32.4%) have experienced a mental health condition in the last year, an increase from 22.8% in 2007.
For the first time, the study also explicitly included LGBTQI+ populations, and found that people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or use a different term to describe their sexual orientation experienced mental health conditions at far higher rates in the past year (58.7%) than people who identified as heterosexual (19.9%). The study also found one in three transgender people (33.1%) had experienced a mental health condition over the past year compared to one in five cisgender people (21.3%). The inclusion of the LGBTQI+ population in this study is a long overdue and welcome step, and this evidence must support renewed efforts in addressing discrimination, and greater investment in community-led mental health and wellbeing responses.
Promisingly, there has been a slight increase in the proportion of people who have seen a health professional for their mental health – reaching almost half (45.1%) of people experiencing a mental health condition in 2020-2022 compared to 35% in 2007. However, this still means that many others are either not seeking help or can’t access it.
This data highlights the importance of mental health as a national priority, as our health system is struggling to keep up with the demand for services. Further, the increasing rates of mental ill-health amongst young people point to a need for a far greater focus on prevention to turn this trend around.
While this study has shone a light on the increasing mental health needs of the population, we are, for the first time in 20 years, without a mental health and suicide prevention plan to meet these huge challenges.
A national roadmap needs to be developed to address these concerning trends and ensure equitable access to mental health care supports for all people in Australia.
Mental Health Australia’s 2023 Report to the Nation also found the current cost of living crisis is having a big impact on more than half of Australians mental health, with particular population groups more likely to experience barriers to accessing mental health supports, including First Nations people, LGBTQI+ people, carers and people on low incomes.
Mental Health Australia is calling on the Australian Government to put mental health reform back on the agenda. A new national roadmap needs to ensure, in particular, increased access to early interventions and digital mental health supports.
The ABS study shows that nearly 945,000 Australians (4.8%) aged 16–85 years experiencing a mental health condition used mental health support services through their phone, internet or another digital technology in the previous 12 months.
With more people seeking support this way, a commitment to funding the coordination and expansion of these services is imperative, so that we can support people early, before problems snowball.
We must work together as a sector with the Australian Government on mental health reform to address the mental health impacts that have resulted from coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic into a cost-of-living crisis. There is an urgent need to increase access to affordable and accessible mental health support, and also have a multi-year mental health reform roadmap - one that is co-designed with people with lived experience, and their families and carers, and the sector, to guide our continued investments, reform our mental health system, and ultimately, improve the mental health and wellbeing of all people in Australia.
Have a good weekend,
CEO, Mental Health Australia