National mental health report 2013

Indicator 12: Prevalence of mental illness

Page last updated: 2013

Key messages:

  • In 1997, 18% of adults experienced a common mental illness (anxiety disorders, affective disorders and substance use disorders) in the past 12 months. In 2007, the figure was slightly higher at 20% but this may be explained by methodological differences in the way in which these prevalence figures were gathered.
  • In both 1997 and 2007, young adults experienced higher rates of mental illness than older adults.
  • In 1998, 14% of children and adolescents were affected by a clinically significant mental health problem. More current data will be collected in 2013.
Mental illness affects the lives of individuals, those close to them, and the wider community. The prevalence of mental illness provides a global indicator of the mental health of Australians.

As noted in Part 1, several major cross-sectional prevalence surveys have been conducted during the course of the National Mental Health Strategy. These include the National Surveys of Mental Health and Wellbeing (conducted in 1997 and 2007) which provide a picture of the prevalence of common mental disorders in adults,4,8,9 and the Child and Adolescent Component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (conducted in 1998) which profiles mental health problems among children and adolescents.6

Figure 58 summarises the findings from the National Surveys of Mental Health and Wellbeing at the two points in time. It shows that in 1997, 18% of adults experienced a common mental disorder (anxiety disorders, affective disorders and substance use disorders) in the 12 months prior to the survey. In 2007, this figure was slightly higher at 20%. Some caution should be exercised in comparing findings from the two surveys because they sampled from slightly different age ranges and used somewhat different approaches to gauge the presence of mental illness in the past 12 months. It may be the case that these methodological differences account for the small increase in overall prevalence over time.9

In both 1997 and 2007, rates of mental disorders diminished with age. Rates were highest in the early adult years, the period in which many people experience their first episode of mental illness. In 2007, the prevalence of mental disorders among 18-24 year olds (26%) was one third higher than the average for the total adult population. A similar pattern was evident from the 1997 figures.

Figure 58 also provides a prevalence estimate from the Child and Adolescent Component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. It shows that 14% of children and adolescents aged 4-17 years were affected by a clinically significant mental health problem. Updated figures are not yet available, but a new study of children and adolescents has been commissioned and will be conducted in 2013.

The available evidence indicates that we can protect individuals against mental illness by building resilience, particularly in young people. Steps can also be taken to minimise the impact of mental illness on the individual and his or her family and friends, by ensuring that high quality treatment
and support is readily available. Evidence-based interventions are also available to minimise the likelihood of relapse following an initial episode by fostering coping strategies. Australian experiences also suggest that we can continue to work with the community to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, and put in place initiatives to promote social inclusion and recovery. The National Mental Health Strategy's population health approach encompasses all of these directions.

Figure 58: Prevalence of common mental disorders in the Australian population, 1997/1998 and 2007

Refer to the following table for a text equivalent of Figure 58: Prevalence of common mental disorders in the Australian population, 1997/1998 and 2007

Text version of figure 58

Age group19972007
4-17
14
-
16/18-24
27
26
25-34
21
25
35-44
20
23
45-54
18
21
55-64
12
14
65+
6
8
All adult population
18
20