Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Mental illness, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 27 November 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Mental illness. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/mental-illness
Mental illness. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 June 2021, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/mental-illness
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Mental illness [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 Nov. 27]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/mental-illness
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Mental illness, viewed 27 November 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/mental-illness
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How many young people experience psychological distress?
Most young people in Australia are happy, feel positive about the future and are satisfied with their lives overall (see also Subjective wellbeing). However, some young people suffer poor mental health.
Mental health is a state of wellbeing in which an individual realises their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and can contribute to their community. Poor mental health can impact on the potential of young people to live fulfilling and productive lives (WHO 2018).
Psychological distress is an individual’s overall level of psychological strain or pain. It is evidenced by psychological states such as depression and anxiety (AIHW 2011). The Kessler 10 Psychological Distress Scale (K10) has been shown to be highly correlated with the presence of depressive or anxiety disorders (Lawrence et al. 2015).
Mental illnesses (also referred to as mental health disorders) are diagnosable health conditions. They are health problems that affect how a person feels, thinks, behaves and interacts with others (DoH 2007). Mental illness can vary in severity and duration and may be episodic (AIHW 2018). However, most mental disorders can be effectively treated, and earlier treatment leads to better outcomes (DoH 2007).
The National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy is being developed to ensure that mental illnesses are diagnosed and treated early to prevent lifelong disability (NMHC 2019). A range of mental health services are available in Australia; for detailed information, see Mental health services in Australia.
Poor mental health can be associated with suicidality (that is, suicidal ideation, suicide plans and suicide attempts). However, while suicidality is common in people with mental disorders, it is not confined to this group (Slade et al. 2009 in AIHW 2018). In 2015, suicide and self-inflicted injury was the leading cause of the total burden of disease for young people aged 15–24, followed by anxiety disorders and depressive disorders. Alcohol use disorders was the fifth leading cause (AIHW 2019) see Burden of disease.
Mental health concerns and rates of deaths by suicide among young people were raised as key challenges by young people during consultations by the Youth Taskforce in 2019 to assist in the development of the National Youth Policy Framework (the Framework) (DoH 2020).
Data on psychological distress are sourced from Young Minds Matter survey (for ages 11–17) and the ABS National Health Survey 2017–18 (for ages 18–24). Both surveys use the K10. This scale consists of 10 questions about negative emotional states in the past 30 days (see ABS 2018b and Lawrence et al. 2015 for more details).
The latest national data on mental illness for young people aged 11–17 are sourced from the Second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (also known as, and hereafter referred to as, the Young Minds Matter survey), and the Young Minds Matter Survey Results Query Tool). This household survey was conducted in 2013–14 by the Telethon Kids Institute at the University of Western Australia, in partnership with Roy Morgan Research. A total of 6,310 parents and carers responded, as well as 2,967 young people aged 11–17 in those households where parents or carers had given permission for them to respond and also completed a questionnaire. Data relating to young people aged 12–17 in this section are based on parent and/or carer reported data; some self-reported data are included for young people aged 11–17.
Young people with mental health disorders are those who meet the criteria for a medical diagnosis of a mental disorder within the 12 months before the survey. Diagnoses were based on the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition).
Data on mental disorders for young people aged 16–24 are sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing 2007. The survey based its classification of mental disorders on existing diagnostic criteria to estimate prevalence (ABS 2008). Data on the prevalence of mental disorders from the 2007 survey are due to be updated from 2020–21 as part of the Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study. This will consist of 4 surveys over 3 years. The survey will also include data on the impact of mental and behavioural and other chronic health conditions on Australians, and lived experiences of suicide (ABS 2021).
Self-reported mental and behavioural conditions
Data on mental and behavioural conditions for ages 15 to 24 are sourced from the ABS National Health Survey 2017–18, which provides data on a range of health conditions including mental and behavioural disorders. Estimates are based on self‑reported data, and record a participant as having a mental or behavioural condition during the collection period only if it was also reported as long term (that is, had lasted, or was expected to last, a minimum of 6 months) (ABS 2018b) (see also Technical notes).
Data on hospitalised injury cases for self-harm are sourced from the AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD). The NHMD is a collection of episode-level records from admitted patient morbidity data collection systems in Australian hospitals. It includes records for all episodes of admitted patient care from essentially all public and private hospitals in Australia.
Deaths by suicide
Data on deaths by suicide are sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Causes of Death. These data include information about causes of death and other characteristics of the person, such as sex, age at death, area of usual residence and Indigenous status. The cause of death data are compiled and coded by the ABS to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD).
The information is provided to the ABS by state and territory Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages for coding and compilation into aggregate statistics. Generally, most deaths due to external causes will be referred to a coroner for investigation; this includes those deaths that are possible instances of intentional self-harm (death by suicide) (ABS 2019). In addition, the ABS supplements these data with information from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS).
Data on ambulance attendances are sourced from the National Ambulance Surveillance System (NASS), a partnership between Turning Point, Monash University and jurisdictional ambulance services across Australia (AIHW 2020b). The NASS collates and codes monthly ambulance attendances data for participating states and territories for self-harm behaviours (suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, death by suicide, self-injury) and mental health (AIHW 2020b).
Data limitations for deaths by suicide, intentional self-harm or suicidal ideation
This section draws on mortality, hospitals and survey data. Data from emergency departments (EDs) or primary health-care services cannot currently capture those presenting with intentional self-harm or suicidal ideation in most jurisdictions. Many others will not seek medical treatment.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) is currently working with key stakeholders, including the Mental Health Information Strategy Standing Committee and ED data custodians, to develop a nationally consistent method to identify and collect data on suicide-related ED presentations (AIHW 2020a).
A further difficulty in determining the incidence of suicidal and self-harming behaviours is that the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision (ICD-10) used to code cause of death data and International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision, Australian Modification (ICD-10-AM) used to code hospital admission data cannot distinguish between the suicidal and non-suicidal intent of self-harm (AIHW 2020a).
In this report, deaths by suicide are presented according to year of registration, not necessarily the year in which the death occurred.
As this section draws on different data sources for different age groups, data for age groups 11–17 and 18–24 are reported separately.
In 2013–14, based on self-reported data in the Young Minds Matter survey among young people aged 11–17:
Source: AIHW analysis of the Young Minds Matter Survey Results Query Tool.
In 2017–18, based on self-reported data in the ABS National Health Survey among young people aged 18–24:
Among young people aged 18–24, the rate of high or very high psychological distress increased from 12% to 15% between 2011–12 and 2014–15. However, there was little change between 2014–15 and 2017–18.
For females aged 18–24, the rate of high or very high psychological distress also rose between 2011–12 and 2014–15, from 13% to 20%. However, there was little change between 2014–15 and 2017–18 (Figure 2).
Levels of psychological distress for females aged 18–24 were higher than all other age groups in 2014–15, and higher than those aged 35–44, 65–74 and 75 years and over in 2017–18 (ABS 2015, ABS 2018a).
Note: The data for females 2011–12 have a relative standard error (RSE) of 25% to 50% and should be treated with caution.
Sources: ABS 2012, 2015, 2018a.
In 2013–14, based on information collected from parents/carers in the Young Minds Matter survey, among young people aged 12–17:
In relation to major depressive disorder, the survey collected information from young people (aged 11–17) themselves, as well as information from their parents/carers. The prevalence of major depressive order among 11–17 year olds was higher (7.7%) based on adolescent-reported information than on information reported by parents/carers (4.7%) (Lawrence et al. 2015). When considering information provided by parents/carers together with information provided by young people themselves, the prevalence was higher again, with 11% of 11–17 year olds meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder (Lawrence et al. 2015).
Young people rated how much their parents or carers knew about how they were feeling. The proportion who reported that their parent/carers know ‘not at all’ how they are feeling was:
(a) In the 12 months before the survey.
Note: Findings are based on parent and/or carer-reported data for young people.
Source: AIHW analysis of the Young Minds Matter Survey Results Query Tool.
Among young people aged 12–17 with mental disorders, the severity of the impact was:
There was little difference in the proportions of males and females at each level of impact (Lawrence et al. 2015). However, the proportion of 12–17 year olds with severe impact was almost 3 times as high as that for 4–11 year olds (23% and 8.2%, respectively) (Lawrence et al. 2015).
In 2007, based on the ABS 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, among young people aged 16–24:
Data on the prevalence of mental disorders from the 2007 survey are due to be updated from 2020–21 as part of the Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study (see Box 1 for details).
More recent data on self-reported long-term mental and behavioural conditions is available from the National Health Survey 2017–18. Results show that among young people aged 15–24:
Between 2014–15 and 2017–18, the proportion of young people reporting having any long-term mental or behavioural condition increased from 19% to 26% (ABS 2018a) (see also Technical notes regarding comparisons over time).
Between 1998 and 2013–14, comparisons of 3 disorders (major depressive disorder, ADHD and conduct disorder) reported in the Young Minds Matters surveys showed that among young people aged 12–17, the proportion:
A wide variety of support services are available to assist young people with emotional and behavioural problems.
While comprising 12% of the Australian population, in 2019–20, young people aged 12–24 made up 22% (587,000) of all people receiving Medicare-subsidised services specific to mental health, and accounted for:
In 2019–20, young people aged 12–24 also made up 25% (76,100) of ED presentations for mental-health-related care (AIHW 2021c).
In 2018–19, young people aged 12–24 accounted for:
For more information on mental health service use in Australia, see Mental health services in Australia.
Please carefully consider your needs when reading the following information about suicide and self-harm. If this report raises any issues for you, these services can help:
Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day.
The AIHW supports the use of the Mindframe guidelines on responsible, accurate and safe reporting of suicide and self-harm. Please consider these guidelines when communicating about suicide and self-harm.
Based on self-reported data in the Young Minds Matter survey, in 2013–14, among young people aged 12–17:
Over half (56%) of young people aged 13–17 who had self-harmed in the past 12 months had used services for emotional or behavioural problems. The proportion of females (61%) was higher than that for males (40%) (Lawrence et al. 2015).
In 2013–14 among young people aged 12–17:
Suicidal ideation or suicide attempts may result in admission to hospital for specialised mental health care. National admitted patient hospital data cannot be used to distinguish between non-suicidal intentional self-harm and suicide attempts, so activity relating to these types of presentations is collectively reported as intentional self-harm.
In 2018–19, among young people aged 15–24:
While data on 15–24 year olds are presented here, self-harm can start at younger ages. In 2017–18, there were 1,100 hospital separations for intentional self‑harm for children aged 10–14—a rate of 76 per 100,000 children. The rate for girls was 7 times as high as that for boys (136 and 19 per 100,000, respectively) (AIHW: Pointer SC 2021).
Due to a break in series in 2017–18, time-series analysis is presented only for 2007–08 to 2016–17 (see Technical notes for more details).
Between 2007–08 and 2016–17:
Source: AIHW NHMD.
In 2018–19, among young people aged 15-24, the rate of hospitalised cases for intentional self-harm varied across remoteness areas. It was highest in Remote areas (535 per 100,000), followed by Outer regional areas (479 per 100,000), Very remote areas (442 per 100,000) and Inner regional areas (369 per 100,000). It was lowest in Major cities (251 per 100,000).
In 2016–17, the rate of hospitalised cases for intentional self-harm was 1.4 times as high for young people living in the lowest socioeconomic areas as for those in the highest areas (394 and 276 per 100,000, respectively) (see Technical notes).
It should be noted that the complete extent of non-fatal suicidal and self-harming behaviours in the community is unknown in Australia. Although, data on hospitalisations due to intentional self-harm provide an indication of the incidence of these behaviours in the community, only data on those with serious physical or mental health issues admitted for further treatment are included (AIHW: Pointer 2021).
Information on hospitalisations for intentional self-harm reported here may differ from that in other publications. The differences are small and may reflect differences in the inclusion criteria (for example, Y87.0 is included here) and/or exclusion criteria. See also Technical notes for methodological issues.
In 2019, based on ABS Causes of Death data, among young people aged 15–24:
Between 2010 and 2019, based on ABS Causes of Death data, among young people aged 15–24:
Caution should be exercised when analysing trends in deaths by suicide by young people (especially with regard to year-to-year changes) due to the small numbers of deaths by suicide each year. Deaths of young people attributed to suicide can also be influenced by reporting practices.
Note: These data have been adjusted for Victorian additional death registrations in 2019. See Technical notes for more details.
Source: ABS Causes of Death, Australia, 2020.
In 2019, based on the AIHW’s 2019 Quarterly Snapshot in selected jurisdictions (see Technical notes for details), ambulances attended the following incidents for young people aged 15–24:
Due to the low number of ambulance attendances for deaths by suicide, these data cannot be reported by age and sex (AIHW 2020b).
The number of incidents involving suicidal behaviours was higher among those aged 15–19 than among those aged 20–24. For both age groups, the number was consistently higher for females than males (Figure 6).
The number of incidents involving mental health was lower among those aged 15–19 than among those aged 20–24. For both age groups, the number was higher for females than males (Figure 6).
Note: National totals include data from New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. Data were collected during March, June, September and December 2019 for ambulance attendances in Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. Data for incidents in New South Wales were collected during June, September and December 2019.
Source: AIHW 2020b.
In 2013–14, based on the Young Minds Matter survey, the prevalence of mental health disorders among young people aged 12–17 was:
(a) In the 12 months before the survey.
Note: Data are based on parent and/or carer-report.
Source: AIHW analysis of the Young Minds Matter Survey Results Query Tool.
In 2017–18, based on the ABS National Health Survey, among young people aged 15–24, there was no statistically significant difference in the prevalence of mental or behavioural conditions across remoteness areas, or between the highest and lowest socioeconomic areas.
For information on topics related to mental health in Australia’s young people, see:
For information on Indigenous young people and mental health, see:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2008. National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: summary of results, 2007. ABS cat. no. 4326.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 15 April 2021.
ABS 2012. National Health Survey: first results, 2011–12 Australia. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 26 March 2021.
ABS 2015. National Health Survey: first results, 2014–15 Australia. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 26 March 2021.
ABS 2018a. National Health Survey: first results, 2017–18 Australia. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 26 March 2021.
ABS 2018b. National Health Survey: first results methodology (Glossary), 2017–18 Australia. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 19 March 2021.
ABS 2019. Australian Bureau of Statistics—Forward Work Program, 2019–20. ABS cat no. 1006.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 18 April 2020.
ABS 2020. Causes of death, Australia, 2019. Australia. ABS cat. no. 3303.0. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2021. Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study (IHMHS). Viewed 15 April 2021.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2011. Young Australians: their health and wellbeing 2011. Cat. no. PHE 140. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 15 April 2021.
AIHW 2018. Mental health services—in brief 2018. Cat. no. HSE 211. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2019. 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 2020a. Australia’s health 2020 data insights. Australia’s health series no. 17. Cat. no. AUS 231. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2020b. Suicide & self-harm monitoring. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed, 11 October 2020.
AIHW 2021a. Mental health services in Australia: Community mental health care services. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 18 May 2021.
AIHW 2021b. Mental health services in Australia: Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 18 May 2021.
AIHW 2021c. Mental health services in Australia: Mental health services provided in emergency departments. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 18 May 2021.
AIHW 2021d. Mental health services in Australia: Overnight admitted mental health-related care. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 18 May 2021.
AIHW 2021e. Mental health services in Australia: Same-day admitted mental health-related care. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 18 May 2021.
AIHW: Pointer SC 2021. Hospitalised injury in children and young people, 2017–18. Injury research and statistics series no. 135. Cat. no. INJCAT 217. Canberra: AIHW.
Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence 2019. Reporting of hospitalisation-related indicators on HealthStats NSW: impact of changes to emergency department admissions. Statistical method no. 8 April 2019. HealthStats NSW. Sydney: NSW Ministry of Health.
DoH (Department of Health) 2007. What is mental illness? Canberra: Department of Health. Viewed 28 April 2020.
DoH 2020. Youth Taskforce interim report. Canberra: Department of Health. Viewed 11 October 2020.
Lawrence D, Johnson S, Hafekost J, Boterhoven De Haan K, Sawyer M, Ainley J et al. 2015. The mental health of young people and adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Canberra: Department of Health. Viewed Viewed 15 April 2021.
NMHC (National Health and Medical Research Council) 2019. National Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy. Viewed 15 April 2021.
WHO (World Health Organization) 2018. Mental health: strengthening our response. Geneva: WHO. Viewed 19 April 2020.
For more information on hospitals admitted patient care data quality for 2018–19, see Appendix A in Admitted patient care 2018–19 Appendixes.
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