National mental health report 2013

Indicator 11: Rates of understanding of mental health problems and mental illness in the community

Page last updated: 2013

Key messages:

  • In 2011, nearly three quarters (74%) of Australian adults could recognise depression. This figure was even higher (86%) for depression accompanied by suicidal thoughts.
  • Rates of recognition of early and chronic schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder were lower, with only about one third of the population being able to recognise these disorders. Rates of recognition of social phobia were the worst at 9%.
  • Rates of recognition of depression have improved since 1995, whereas rates of recognition of schizophrenia peaked in 2003-04 and have declined slightly since. Recognition of post-traumatic stress disorder and social phobia were only assessed in 2011, so no comparison data are available.
Mental health literacy can be thought of as the knowledge and beliefs about mental illnesses which aid their recognition, management and/or prevention. Accurately recognising the symptoms of a mental illness is a necessary first step in the process of seeking professional help, with failure to identify the problem leading to delays in treatment.57 Research has demonstrated an association between extended duration of untreated mental illness and poorer outcomes in terms of response to treatment,58,59 and suicidality.60

Data for this indicator come from the National Surveys of Mental Health Literacy and Stigma, conducted in 1995, 2003-04 and 2011, the same source as used for Indicator 3 (Rates of stigmatising attitudes within the community).

These surveys have used a vignette-based approach to investigate the ability of the Australian population to accurately identify a variety of mental disorders, namely depression and early schizophrenia (assessed in all years), depression with suicidal thoughts and chronic schizophrenia (assessed in 2003-04 and 2011), and social phobia and post-traumatic stress disorder (assessed in 2011).46

Figure 57 shows that in 2011, recognition rates for depression with and without suicidal thoughts were high (86% and 74%, respectively). Recognition rates for early schizophrenia and chronic schizophrenia were lower; 38% identified the former correctly, and 32% identified the
latter. Recognition rates for post-traumatic stress disorder were similar to those for schizophrenia were the lowest at 9%.46 Rates of recognition of depression have improved over time, whereas rates of recognition of schizophrenia peaked in 2003-04 and have declined slightly since.46

Australian initiatives such as beyondblue, MindMatters and Kidsmatter have focused considerable attention on improving the mental health literacy of the Australian population. Future efforts in this area might benefit from a focus on disorders other than depression. There is clearly still some way to go in terms of improving community understanding of schizophrenia, and other disorders - like anxiety disorders - might also be targeted. In addition, further monitoring is necessary to explore whether improvements in understanding of mental health problems translate into help seeking and, ultimately, whether they lead to gains in population mental health.

Figure 57: Recognition of the mental disorder experienced by the person described in the vignette, 1995, 2003-04 and 2011

Refer to the following table for a text equivalent of Figure 57: Recognition of the mental disorder experienced by the person described in the vignette, 1995, 2003-04 and 2011

Text version of figure 57

19952003-042011
Depression
39
67
74
Depression with suicidal thoughts
-
77
86
Early schizophrenia
27
43
38
Chronic schizophrenia
-
36
32
Social phobia
-
-
9
Post-traumatic stress disorder
-
-
38