Mental disorders the most common health issue for Australians, survey finds

29 July 2022

More than 8.5 million Australians aged between 16 and 85 – or over 2 in 5 – have experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime, making it the most common health issue, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing.

One in five Australians, or 4.2 million, reported experiencing a 12-month mental disorder, defined by the ABS as having sufficient symptoms of the disorder they had experienced at some time in their life within the 12 months prior to the survey.

Of the 4.2 million people with a 12-month mental disorder in 2020-21, 47.1% saw a health professional for their mental health. Of the total group, 3.4 million saw a health professional for their mental health in 2020-21, with 24% having no previous lifetime disorder.

The survey was conducted between December 2020 and July 2021 with 5500 Australians aged between 16 and 85. It was the first time in 15 years that the survey had been conducted.

The survey data was released on 22 July 2022. Among the findings:

  • Anxiety disorders were the most common 12-month disorders, with 17% or 3.3 million people having experienced an anxiety disorder in the previous year.
  • One in 4 girls/women had a 12-month disorder in 2020-21, compared with 18% of boys/men.
  • Almost 2 in 5 people (39.6%)aged 16-24 had a 12-month disorder in 2020-21.
  • Almost half of girls/women aged 16-24 and almost a third of boys/men aged 16-24had a 12-month disorder during the survey year.
  • In 2020-21, 15.4% of Australians aged 16-85 years experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress:
  • 44.7% of people who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, pansexual or queer had a 12-month anxiety disorder and 30% had a 12-month affective disorder.
  • One in six (16.7%) Australians aged 16-85 years had experienced any suicidal thoughts or behaviours in their life.
  • 3.3% of people aged 16-85 years (650,800 people) had a 12-month substance use disorder, with boys/men almost twice as likely as girls/women to have had a 12-month substance use disorder (4.4% compared with 2.3%).

PACFA President Dr Di Stow said the survey results were a clear indicator of the need to expand Medicare rebates to counsellors and psychotherapists, so more Australians could access affordable support.

‘PACFA, as part of an ARCAP delegation, discussed Medicare rebate access for counsellors and psychotherapists with the Federal Health Department in July and we will continue our advocacy to the relevant Ministers.

‘More than 50% of Australians who had a recurring mental disorder in 2020-21 did not access mental health care. We know that many could not find an available mental health professional who is able to offer Medicare rebates.

‘Recognising counsellors and psychotherapists as a mental health workforce within the Medicare Better Access initiative is just good sense.’