Youth is a key transition period in a person’s life. When young people are in good health they are more likely to achieve better educational outcomes, make a successful transition into full-time work, develop healthy adult lifestyles, and experience fewer challenges forming families and parenting (AIHW 2011). A recent survey of youth found that physical and mental health was highly valued by young people, with a majority regarding it as ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important (Carlisle et al. 2018).

Profile of young people

Who are Australia’s young people?

For this snapshot, young people are defined as those aged 12–24. This is consistent with the age breakdowns for the National Youth Information Framework (NYIF) and complements the Children’s Headline Indicators. This age range also includes 3 main stages of adolescence: early, middle and late.

However, definitions of young people will vary between data sources according to different frameworks, policies and legislation. Often, data are available only for those aged 15 and over. In these instances, data for those aged 15–24 will be reported instead. For information about children aged 0–12, see Health of children.

At 30 June 2019, an estimated 3.3 million young people aged 15–24 lived in Australia. Just over half of these people were male (51%, or 1.7 million) and 49% (1.6 million) were female. Together, young people aged 15–24 made up 13% of the total population (ABS 2019a).

Health status

Burden of disease

The burden of disease is the quantified impact of a disease or injury on a population, which captures health loss, or years of healthy life lost through premature death or living with ill-health (see Burden of disease). For young people aged 15–24, the leading causes of total burden varied between males and females. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries were the leading cause of total burden among males, and anxiety disorders were the leading cause among females (Figure 1) (AIHW 2019a). 
 

This horizontal bar chart shows the top five leading causes of total burden among young people by sex for 2015. The leading causes of burden for females was anxiety disorders (11.3%), followed by: depressive disorders (8.9%), asthma (7.1%), back pain and problems (6.0%), and suicide/self-inflicted injuries (6.0%). For males, the leading cause of burden was suicide/self-inflicted injuries (12.8%), followed by: alcohol use disorders (7.2%), road traffic injuries/motor vehicle occupant (5.7%), depressive disorders (5.4%), and back pain and problems (5.1%).

Mental health

Based on The Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (also known as the Young Minds Matter survey) undertaken in 2013–14, around 14% of children aged 12–17 met the clinical criteria for 1 or more mental disorders in the previous 12 months (Lawrence et al. 2015). Anxiety disorders (7.0%) were the most common (Table 1). Young males were more likely than young females to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or conduct disorder, while young females were more likely than young males to have anxiety or a major depressive disorder.

See Mental health.

Table 1: Prevalence of mental disorders among young people aged 12–17, by sex, 2013–14

Disorder

Males (%)

Females (%)

Persons (%)

Anxiety disorders

6.3

7.7

7.0

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

9.8

2.7

6.3

Major depressive disorder

4.3

5.8

5.0

Conduct disorder

2.6

1.6

2.1

Any mental disorder(a)

15.9

12.8

14.4

(a) Totals are lower than the sum of disorders as children and adolescents may have had more than 1 class of mental disorder in the previous 12 months.

Source: Lawrence et al. 2015.

In 2013–14, the Young Minds Matter survey found that around 11% of adolescents aged 12–17 had ever deliberately hurt or injured themselves without trying to end their life (self-harmed). Of those adolescents who had self-harmed, almost three-quarters (73%) had harmed themselves in the previous 12 months. Females aged 16–17 had the highest rates of self-harm, with 17% having harmed themselves in the previous 12 months (Lawrence et al. 2015).

See Suicide and intentional self-harm for more information.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017–18 National Health Survey, 15% (339,000) of people aged 18–24 experienced high or very high psychological distress, with this proportion higher among young women (18%) than young men (12%) (ABS 2019c).

Disability

In 2018, 9.3% of all people aged 15–24 had disability (around 291,000 people) (ABS 2019e). The prevalence of disability was similar for males (9.2%) and females (9.5%). Of young people aged 15–24:

  • 3.4% had severe or profound core activity limitations
  • 6.9% had schooling or employment restrictions (ABS 2019e).

The prevalence of young people with disability was similar in 2003 and 2018 (9.0% and 9.3%, respectively). There was an increase between 2009 and 2012 from 6.6% to 7.8% (ABS 2019e).

See Health of people with disability for more information.

Injuries

In 2017–18, there were around 73,200 hospitalised injury cases among young people aged 15–24 due to injury or poisoning—a rate of 2,300 per 100,000. Of these cases, 72,600 had a cause of injury recorded. The leading causes of these injuries were:

  • land transport accidents (18%, or 12,700)
  • injury from inanimate mechanical forces (such as being struck or cut by something other than another human or animal) (17%, or 12,500)
  • falls (15%, or 10,700) (Figure 2).

See Injury.
 

This horizontal bar chart shows that in 2017–18, land transport accidents, exposure to inanimate mechanical forces and falls were the 3 leading causes of injury among young people aged 15–24.

Deaths

In 2018, the death rate among young people aged 15–24 was 35 deaths per 100,000. Overall, the death rate among young people has fallen over time from 42 deaths per 100,000 in 2009 to 35 deaths per 100,000 in 2018.

Death rates were higher among young males (49 per 100,000) than females (20 per 100,000) (AIHW 2019b). The leading cause of death among young people was injuries (74%).

In 2018, injuries contributed 845 deaths of young people aged 15–24—a rate of 26 per 100,000 people. The leading causes of injury deaths were intentional self-harm (51%), land transport accidents (26%) and accidental poisoning (8.0%).

In 2018, the age-specific rate of suicide among young people was 13.5 per 100,000. Young people accounted for 14% of suicide deaths. The rate of suicide was higher among young males (20 per 100,000) than females (6.4 per 100,000) (ABS 2019b).

Between 2009 and 2018, the rate of suicide among young people increased from 9.1 per 100,000 in 2009 to 14 per 100,000 in 2018 (ABS 2019b).

See Causes of death and Suicide and intentional self-harm for more information.

Health risk factors

Overweight and obesity

According to estimates from the ABS National Health Survey 2017–18, 41% (1.3 million) of young people aged 15–24 were overweight or obese. This proportion was higher among males than females—47% (737,000) of males aged 15–24 were overweight or obese compared with 36% (543,000) of females (ABS 2019c).

For further detail of how overweight and obesity is defined and measured, see Overweight and obesity.

Substance use

Data from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) are available to report on substance use among young people aged 14–24. Self-reported data from the 2019 NDSHS found that 97% of young people aged 14–17 and 80% of people aged 18–24 had never smoked tobacco.

Fewer young people are taking up smoking

The proportion of people aged 14–17 who had never smoked increased from 82% in 2001 to 97% in 2019.  

The proportion of 14–17 year olds who were daily smokers decreased from 11% in 2001 to 1.9% in 2019. However, the estimate for 2019 should be interpreted with caution as the RSE (relative standard error) is between 25% and 50%.

In 2019, two-thirds (66%) of young people aged 14–17 had never had a full serve of alcohol, compared with only 15% of those aged 18–24. The proportion of 14–17 year olds consuming 5 or more drinks at least monthly remained stable between 2016 and 2019 (8.0% and 8.9%, respectively) but has declined since 2001 (30%) (AIHW 2020b).

There were no significant declines among 14–17 year olds in recent illicit drug use (at least once in the past 12 months) between 2016 and 2019. However recent use was considerably lower in 2019 (9.7%) than in 2001 (23%); use of cannabis fell from 21% to 8.2% (AIHW 2020b).

For more detailed information about substance use among Australians, see Tobacco smoking, Alcohol risk and harm and Illicit drug use.

Sexual and reproductive health

In 2018, the sixth National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health found:

  • most students in Years 10, 11 and 12 had engaged in some form of sexual activity, from deep kissing (74%) to sexual intercourse (47%)
  • most sexually active students reported that they had discussed having sex (81%) and protecting their sexual health (77%) prior to sex, and were using condoms (57%) and/or oral contraception (41%)
  • one-third (33%) of students reported ‘sexting’ in the previous 2 months (mostly with a boyfriend, girlfriend or friend) (Fisher et al. 2019).

A large proportion of students (79%) had accessed the internet to find answers to sexual health information, but the most trusted sources of information were: GPs (89%), followed by mothers (60%) and community health services (55%) (Fisher et al. 2019).

Health care

Mental health services

In 2018–19, young people aged 12–24 made up 21% (557,000) of all people receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services. Across different service providers, young people aged 12–24 accounted for:

  • 19% (78,100) of people receiving services from psychiatrists
  • 21% (472,000) of people receiving services from general practitioners
  • 22% (118,000) of people receiving services from clinical psychologists
  • 23% (169,000) of people receiving services from other psychologists
  • 23% (25,200) of people receiving services from other allied health providers (AIHW 2020a).

For further information, see Mental health services.

HPV immunisation

Immunisation against the human papillomavirus (HPV) can prevent cervical and other cancers, and other HPV-related diseases. The National HPV Vaccination Program has been immunising adolescent girls since 2007 and was extended to boys in 2013.

In 2015–16:

  • 80% of girls aged 15 were fully immunised against HPV, an increase from 79% in 2014–15
  • 74% of boys aged 15 were fully immunised against HPV, an increase from 67% in 2014–15 (AIHW 2018).

See Immunisation and vaccination.

Patient experiences

The ABS Patient Experiences in Australia survey collects information about access and barriers to a range of health care services. In 2018–19, the most common health service used by young people aged 15–24 in the 12 months before the survey was a general practitioner (GP) (Figure 3) (ABS 2019d).

In 2018–­19, the majority of young people who saw a GP said the GP always: listened carefully (71%), showed respect (79%) and spent enough time with them (71%). However, 19% said they waited longer than they felt was acceptable to get an appointment (ABS 2019d). 

See Patient experience of health care.
 

This horizontal bar chart shows that in 2017–18, the most common health service used by young people aged 15–24 in the 12 months before the survey was: seeing a general practitioner (GP), followed by receiving a prescription for medication, and seeing a dental professional.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on the health of young people, see:

Visit Children & youth for more on this topic.

If you or someone you know needs help please call:

Lifeline 13 11 14

Suicide call back service 1300 659 467

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019a. Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2019. ABS cat. no. 3101.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019b. Causes of death, Australia, 2018. ABS cat. no. 3303.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019c. Microdata: National Health Survey 2017–18, Confidentialised Unit Record File. ABS cat no. 4324.0.55.001. Findings based on AIHW analysis of ABS microdata.

ABS 2019d. Patient experiences in Australia: summary of findings, 2018–19. ABS cat. no. 4839.0. Canberra: ABS. 

ABS 2019e. Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2018. ABS cat. no. 4430.0. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2011. Young Australians: their health and wellbeing 2011. Cat. no. PHE 140. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2015. National Youth Information Framework (NYIF) indicators. Cat. no. WEB 70. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 30 October 2019.

AIHW 2017. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: detailed findings. Drug Statistics series no. 31. Cat. no. PHE 214. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2018. HPV immunisation rates in 2015–16. Cat. no. HPF 17. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 25 September 2019.

AIHW 2019a. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia, 2015. Australian Burden of Disease series no. 19. Cat. no. BOD 22. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019b. Deaths in Australia. Cat. no. PHE 229. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2020a. Mental health services in Australia. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 1 February 2020.

AIHW 2020b. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Drug Statistics series no. 32. Cat. no. PHE 270. Canberra: AIHW.

Carlisle E, Fildes J, Hall S, Hicking V, Perrens B & Plummer J 2018. Mission Australia’s 2018 Youth Survey report. Sydney: Mission Australia. Viewed 24 September 2019.

Fisher CM, Waling A, Kerr L, Bellamy R, Ezer P, Mikolajczak G et al. 2019. 6th National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2018, ARCSHS (Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society) monograph series No. 113. Bundoora (Melbourne): La Trobe University. Viewed 24 September 2019.

Lawrence D, Johnson S, Hafekost J, Boterhoven De Haan K, Sawyer M, Ainley J & Zubrick SR 2015. The mental health of children and adolescents: report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Canberra: Department of Health. Viewed 24 September 2019.