A first step in the analysis was to derive a measure of mental health need. Mental health need can be defined in many ways.43, 44 For the current study, an inclusive measure of need was developed that takes into consideration the groups to whom Better Access services are principally targeted (namely the common mental disorders including affective, anxiety and substance use disorders), as well as other factors that may prompt individuals to seek treatment but that fall outside the criteria for determining disorder or that fall under the threshold for meeting criteria for disorder. Further information about the rationale and methodology underpinning the approach to defining and measuring mental health need is provided earlier in this report.

Mental health need was defined as:

  • Individuals with any of the following indicators of need: a 12–month affective, anxiety or substance use disorder and/or; 12–month symptoms (but no lifetime disorder); and/or any psychiatric hospitalisation in the past 12 months and/or; high or very high level of psychological distress on the K10 measure and/or; 7 or more days out of role and/or; any suicidality in the past 12 months.
The distribution of mental health need among Australian adults at an individual level was then examined. Data from the 2007 NSMHWB were used to estimate the proportion of the adult population aged 16 to 84 years experiencing mental health need according to definition above. Table 5.1 shows that 31.9% (95% CI 30.0%–33.9%) of the adult population aged 16 to 84 years were classified as having mental health need, comprising 20.0% (95% CI 18.9%–21.1%) with any 12–month affective, anxiety or substance use disorder plus an additional 12.1% (95% CI 11.1%– 13.1%)with at least one other indicator of need.

Table 5.1 Number and percentage of Australian adults aged 16 to 84 years meeting criteria for mental health need, and for the individual components of mental health need, as estimated by the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (N=8,841)

N%95% CI
Mental health need
2,913
32.1
30.8-33.4
Any 12-month affective, anxiety or substance use disorder
1,768
20.0
18.9-21.1
12-month affective, anxiety or substance use disorder (but no lifetime disorder)
416
4.3
3.8-4.8
Hospitalisation for mental health condition in past 12 months
294
2.8
2.4-3.3
7 or more days out of role
786
8.3
7.6-9.0
High or very high psychological distress
849
9.4
8.6-10.3
Suicidality in past 12 months
248
2.4
2.0-2.8

Ns are unweighted; % (95% CI) are weighted. The total number of persons meeting criteria for mental health need will be less than the sum of the persons meeting individual criteria for its components because a person may meet criteria for more than one component.