Health of young people
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2023) Health of young people, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 09 December 2023.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2023). Health of young people. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/health-of-young-people
Health of young people. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 11 September 2023, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/health-of-young-people
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Health of young people [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2023 [cited 2023 Dec. 9]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/health-of-young-people
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2023, Health of young people, viewed 9 December 2023, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/health-of-young-people
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This page is part of a series of topic summaries that explores different health experiences across life stages, including children, older Australians and all adults. This page focuses on key health issues that adolescents and young adults face. Precise age ranges used for reporting the health of young people varies between data sources, but generally includes teenagers and young adults up to the age of 24. For information about children, see Health of children.
Youth is a key transition period in a person’s life. The health of young people can influence how likely they are 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 2021a). A recent survey of youth found that the environment, equity and discrimination and mental health, were the top 3 most important issues in Australia today identified by young people (Leung et al. 2022).
At 30 June 2022, an estimated 3.2 million young people aged 15–24 lived in Australia. Just over half of these people were male (52%, or 1.6 million) and 48% (1.5 million) were female. Young people aged 15–24 made up 12% of the total population (ABS 2022b).
Since early 2020, COVID-19 has emerged as a major health threat in Australia. While COVID-19 affects people in different ways, the social and economic impacts on young people have been substantial. In the initial months following the emergence of COVID-19 in Australia, young people experienced greater levels of psychological distress, loneliness, educational disruption, unemployment and housing stress, compared with pre-pandemic levels. The full impact of COVID-19 is complex and further monitoring is required to understand the longer-term impacts on young people’s wellbeing (AIHW 2021c).
Burden of disease
Burden of disease refers to the quantified impact of a disease or injury on a population, which captures overall health loss, that is, years of healthy life lost through premature death or living with ill health (see Burden of disease).
In 2022, Mental health conditions & substance use disorders, and injuries contributed the most burden 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 specific cause of total burden among males, and anxiety disorders were the leading specific cause among females (Figure 1) (AIHW 2022a).
Figure 1: Leading causes of total burden among people aged 15–24, by sex, 2022
This horizontal bar chart shows the top five leading causes of total burden among young people by sex for 2022. The leading cause of burden for females was anxiety disorders (10.9%), followed by: depressive disorders (8.7%), eating disorders (8.6%), asthma (6.5%), and suicide/self-inflicted injuries (6.5%). For males, the leading cause of burden was suicide/self-inflicted injuries (14.8%), followed by: alcohol use disorders (7%), road traffic injuries/motor vehicle occupant (5.4%), depressive disorders (5.2%) and asthma (5.2%).
Source: AIHW 2022a
Measuring mental health
Nationally representative estimates on mental health are derived from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (NSMHWB). The ABS recommends that the NSMHWB be used as the main source of prevalence data as it uses diagnostic criteria rather than self-reporting. See Comparing ABS long-term health conditions data sources for more information.
The figures presented in this snapshot reflect the latest nationally representative data for rates of psychological distress.
According to the NSMHWB, in 2020–21, 20% of people aged 16–34 experienced high or very high psychological distress, and young women (26%) were more likely to experience high or very high psychological distress than young men (14%) (ABS 2022c).
Findings from the Australian National University Centre for Social Research and Methods COVID-19 Impact Monitoring Survey Program showed that experiences of psychological distress among people aged 18–24 were significantly higher in April 2020 than pre-pandemic levels (February 2017). Rates of psychological distress remained higher on average for young people in the second half of 2020 and during 2021, and this has continued into January 2022. Conversely, reduced levels of psychological distress were observed for older age groups, on average, when compared with pre-pandemic levels (AIHW 2022b; Biddle and Gray 2022) (see ‘Chapter 8 Mental health of young Australians’ in Australia’s health 2022: data insights).
Unfortunately, the most currently available national data on child and adolescent mental health is from the 2013–14 Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (also known as the Young Minds Matter survey). To update these estimates, modelling was used combining data from the Young Minds Matter survey with information from the 2021 Australian Census of Population and Housing to produce synthetic estimates of prevalence of mental disorders in children and adolescents across Australia. To explore this in more detail, see Regional estimates of child and adolescent mental disorders. However, for this report we only have the original survey from 2013–14 to report reliable statistics at a national level. In 2013–14, around 14% of children aged 12–17 met the clinical criteria for one 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.
|Disorder||Males (%)||Females (%)||Persons (%)|
Major depressive disorder
Any mental disorder(a)
(a) Totals are lower than the sum of disorders as young people 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 people aged 12–17 had ever deliberately hurt or injured themselves without trying to end their life (self-harmed). Of those young people 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).
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) collects a broad range of information about people with a disability including levels of severity, and is the most detailed and comprehensive source of Australian disability data (ABS 2022e).
The prevalence of young people with disability was similar in 2003 and 2018 (9.0% and 9.3%, respectively), with some fluctuation in the intervening surveys (6.6% in 2009 and 7.8% in 2012) (ABS 2019b).
The most recent 2018 ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) is used in this report to provide information on the prevalence and experiences of disability among young people while the 2022 SDAC is being conducted. Based on self-reported data from the 2018 SDAC, 9.3% of people aged 15–24 had disability (around 291,000 people) (ABS 2019b). The prevalence of disability was similar for males (9.2%) and females (9.5%). Of young people with disability, 6.9% had a schooling or employment restrictions (ABS 2019b).
The 2021 Census of Population and Housing collects information on whether a person has a profound or severe core activity limitation, and need assistance in their day to day lives in one or more of the three core activity areas of self-care, mobility and communication due to a long-term health condition, a disability or old age. The prevalence of young people with a severe or profound core activity limitation in this report uses self-reported data from the Census. According to the 2021 Census, around 90,000 (3.0%) of people aged 15-24 had severe or profound core activity limitations (ABS 2022a).
See Health of people with disability for more information.
In 2021–22, there were around 68,200 hospitalised injury cases among people aged 15–24 due to injury or poisoning – a rate of 2,200 per 100,000 (AIHW 2023c).
In 2021–22 the leading causes of injuries for young people were contact with objects (such as being struck or cut by something other than another human or animal), transport accidents and other unintentional causes (If there is no external cause of injury documented in the clinical record, and clarification is unable to be obtained from the clinician,) (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Injury hospitalisations of people aged 15–24, by cause of injury, 2021–22
This horizontal bar chart shows that in 2021–22, contact with objects (18.4%) , transport accidents (17.6%) and other unintentional causes (14.9%) were the 3 leading causes of injury among young people aged 15–24.
- Definitions of intention self-harm will differ from those used in the Young Minds Matter Survey.
- Cause of injury categories was classified according to the ICD-10-AM.
Source: AIHW 2023c
In 2021, the death rate among people aged 15–24 was 38 deaths per 100,000. The death rate among young people fell between 2009 and 2021, from 41 deaths per 100,000 to 38 deaths per 100,000, respectively. Death rates were higher among young males (52 per 100,000) than females (23 per 100,000) (AIHW 2023b).
Injuries were the leading cause of death among young people, accounting for 809 (69%) of the 1,200 deaths for 15–24-year-olds. Half (50%) of all injury deaths were caused by intentional self-harm (suicide), followed by land transport accidents (28%) and accidental poisoning (8%) (AIHW 2023a, 2023b).
In 2021, young people accounted for 13% of all intentional self-harm deaths. The age-specific rate of intentional self-harm among young people was 13 per 100,000 – an increase from a rate of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2009. The rate of suicide was higher among young males (17.5 per 100,000) than females (8.1 per 100,000) (AIHW 2023b).
A rise in mental health service use and an increase in severe psychological distress were observed during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. However, there is no evidence to date that the responses to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 such as lockdowns, have been associated with an increase in suspected deaths by suicide in the general population (AIHW 2021c, 2022c). See ‘Chapter 8 Mental health of young Australians’ in Australia’s health 2022: data insights.
Overweight and obesity
Why is the most recent data from 2017–18?
Nationally representative estimates on overweight and obesity are derived from the ABS’ National Health Survey (NHS).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, physical measurements (including height, weight and waist circumference) were not taken at the time of the NHS 2020–21, the most recent NHS.
While self-reported height and weight were collected as part of the survey, self-reported data underestimates actual levels of overweight and obesity based on objective measurements (ABS 2018b).
As self-reported and measured rates of overweight and obesity should not be directly compared, the figures presented in this snapshot reflect the latest nationally representative data based on measured body mass index.
A healthy body weight is an important factor in young people’s current and future health, with young people considered overweight or obese more likely to become or remain obese as adults (AIHW 2021c).
Based on measured data from the 2017–18 NHS, it was estimated that:
- More than 1 in 4 (27% or 226,800) 15–17-year-olds were either overweight (18% or 151,300) or obese (9.3% or 78,300).
- Slightly more than 9 in 20 (46% or 1.0 million) 18–24-year-olds were overweight (30% or 676,700) or obese (16% or 347,300) (ABS 2019a).
For further detail of how overweight and obesity is defined and measured, see Overweight and obesity.
Data from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) are available to report on substance use among people aged 14–24. Self-reported data from the 2019 NDSHS found that 97% of people aged 14–17 and 80% of people aged 18–24 had never smoked tobacco (AIHW 2020).
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 relative standard error (see glossary) is between 25% and 50%. Nationally, there has been an increase in e-cigarette use, and this was most notable in younger age groups (AIHW 2020). In 2019, nearly 2 in 3 (64%) current smokers aged 14–17 or 18–24 reported they had ever used e-cigarettes. While this increased for both age groups since 2016 (51% and 49%, respectively), the increase was only significant for young people aged 18–24. Among non-smokers, the proportion of 14–17-year-olds that had ever used e-cigarettes remained consistent between 2016 and 2019 at around 8.0%; while for 18–24-year-olds, it increased from 13.6% in 2016 to 19.6% in 2019 (AIHW 2020).
Evidence for the long-term health impacts of e-cigarettes is limited. However, a recent literature review by the Australian National University Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH) indicated that e-cigarettes are particularly harmful for young non-smokers, and may increase tobacco smoking uptake (Banks et al. 2022).
In 2019, two-thirds (66%) of 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 2020).
The National Health Survey (NHS) 2020–21 reported on smoking and alcohol consumption among 15–24-year-olds. Survey responses were collected online during the COVID-19 pandemic and is a break in time series. Data should be used for point-in-time analysis only and can’t be compared to previous years. Estimates using self-reported data show that in 2020–21, 1.4% of 15–17-year-olds were daily smokers and the majority (73%) reported they had never consumed a full serve of alcohol. In comparison, 8.3% of 18–24-year-olds were daily smokers and 12% had never consumed a full serve of alcohol (ABS 2022f, 2022g).
The 2019 NDSHS showed 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%), and use of cannabis fell from 21% to 8.2% over this period (AIHW 2020).
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: general practitioners (GP) (89%), followed by mothers (60%) and community health services (55%) (Fisher et al. 2019).
Mental health services
In 2021–22, people aged 12–24 made up 23% (663,000) of all people receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services (AIHW 2023d). Across different service providers, people aged 12–24 accounted for:
- 22% (102,000) of people receiving services from psychiatrists
- 24% (569,000) of people receiving services from general practitioners
- 24% (135,000) of people receiving services from clinical psychologists
- 26% (198,000) of people receiving services from other psychologists
- 27% (33,000) of people receiving services from other allied health providers (AIHW 2023d).
The National HPV Vaccination Program has been immunising adolescent girls since 2007 and was extended to boys in 2013. Immunisation against the human papillomavirus (HPV) can prevent cervical and other cancers, and other HPV-related diseases.
In 2021, the proportion of 15-year-olds who were fully immunised against HPV were similar:
- 80% of girls, compared with 81% in 2020
- 77% of boys, compared with 78% in 2020 (NCIRS 2022).
As of 24 March 2023 , 93.1% of people aged 16–24 had received at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccination. (Department of Health and Aged Care 2023).
See Immunisation and vaccination. For more information on the health impact of the pandemic, See ‘Chapter 1 The impact of a new disease: COVID-19 from 2020, 2021 and into 2022’ in Australia’s health 2022: data insights.
The ABS Patient Experiences in Australia survey collects information about access and barriers to a range of health care services. The 2021–22 survey included new questions to try and better understand the impact of COVID-19 with particular focus on the introduction of telehealth appointments.
Among people aged 15–24, females (30%) were more likely than males (15%) to have used a telehealth appointment for their own health in the last 12 months before the survey. The most common health service used by young people was a GP (Figure 3).
In 2021–22, most young people who saw a GP said the GP always: listened carefully (71%), showed respect (82%), and spent enough time with them (75%). Additionally, more young people reported waiting longer than they felt was acceptable to get an appointment in 2021–22 (20%) compared with 2020–21 (13%) (ABS 2021, 2022d).
Figure 3: Experiences of health services in the last 12 months for people aged 15–24, by sex, 2021–22
This horizontal bar chart shows that in 2021–22, the most common health service used by people aged 15–24 in the 12 months before the survey was: seeing a general practitioner (GP) (72.2%), followed by receiving a prescription for medication (50.1%), and seeing a dental professional (49.9%).
- Includes only prescriptions received from GP.
- Telehealth services refers to an appointment with a health professional over the phone, by video conferencing or through other communication technologies.
Source: ABS 2022d
Where do I go for more information?
For more information on the health of young people, see:
- Australia’s children
- National Youth Information Framework (NYIF) indicators
- Australia's youth
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent and youth health and wellbeing 2018
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
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This page was last updated 11 September 2023. All information on this page is the most recent available, as at that date.