Mental health of young people in Australia

1 Introduction

Page last updated: October 2000

Surveys in other countries suggest that children and adolescents experience high rates of mental health problems, however in Australia there has been no information at a national level about the prevalence of child and adolescent mental health problems. Nor has information been available about the level of disability experienced by young people with mental health problems or the extent to which they are receiving professional help. Without such information it is difficult to plan better services to help these young people and to relieve the substantial burden that mental health problems impose on them, their families, and their communities. This report has been prepared to address these deficiencies.

The report describes the key findings of the Child and Adolescent Component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being. The child and adolescent survey is one of three surveys commissioned by the Mental Health Branch of the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care. The other two surveys focused on mental disorders experienced by adults, and on 'low prevalence disorders' such as psychosis. The results of the other surveys have been described in separate reports (Andrews, Hall, Teesson, & Henderson, 1999; Jablensky et al., 1999).

Why was the survey conducted?
Specific aims of the child and adolescent survey
Who conducted the survey?
What is contained in this report?

Why was the survey conducted?

In 1992 the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments of Australia endorsed the National Mental Health Strategy. This strategy had the following aims:
  • to improve the lives of people with mental illness and people who care for them
  • to promote the mental health of the Australian community
  • where possible, to prevent the development of mental health problems and mental disorders
  • to reduce the impact of mental disorders on individuals, families and the community
  • to assure the rights of people with mental disorders.
In developing the strategy it became apparent that little information was available nationally about the prevalence of mental disorders and the welfare of Australians with mental illness. In December 1994, therefore, a workshop commissioned by the then Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services recommended that national surveys of mental health and well-being should be conducted to provide information in this area.

The Child and Adolescent Component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being is the first survey to investigate the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents at a national level in Australia. It provides an accurate estimate of the prevalence of mental health problems among children and adolescents in Australia. It also provides information about the degree of disability associated with mental health problems and the extent to which children and adolescents are receiving help for their problems.
Top of page

Specific aims of the child and adolescent survey

The Child and Adolescent Component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being was designed to answer four questions:
  1. How many children and adolescents in Australia have mental health problems?
  2. What is the nature of these problems?
  3. What is the degree of disability associated with these problems?
  4. What are the services used by children and adolescents with mental health problems?

Who conducted the survey?

The Mental Health Branch of the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care commissioned the University of Adelaide to undertake the survey. A research group led by A/Professor M Sawyer and Mr B Graetz was established in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Adelaide to take responsibility for conducting the survey. Following a tendering process, ACNielsen was awarded the contract to carry out the fieldwork. Data were collected between February and April 1998 by trained interviewers from across Australia who visited children and parents in their homes.

What is contained in this report?

This report describes the prevalence of child and adolescent mental health problems in Australia. In addition, information is presented about the relationship between these problems and the health-related quality of life of children and adolescents, adolescent health-risk behaviour, and patterns of service utilisation. The present report provides an overview of results. More detailed information will be provided in bulletins, which will be published over the next eighteen months.

In the report, we present some results separately for children (4–12 years) and adolescents (13–17 years). There are two reasons for this approach. First, there is evidence that the nature and prevalence of problems differ at these two stages of development. Second, for some aspects of the study (e.g., health-risk behaviour), information was collected from only the older group.

The sampling and assessment methods employed in the study are described briefly in the next chapter. More detailed information is available on request in a separate report, which can be obtained from: Mental Health and Special Programs, Health and Aged Care, MDP 37, GPO Box 9848, Canberra, ACT, Australia, 2601.
Top of page