The Mental Health of Australians

It's Mental Health Week this week (4-11 October) and so for this week - and for the entire month of October - we're talking about Mental Health issues. 

First up, let's look at some statistics. In 2007 the Australian Government conducted a National Survey of Mental Health, one of the most comprehensive snapshots of the country's wellbeing, capturing over 16 million responses. To summarise the information we've put together an infographic:

Mental Health Week Statistics Austraia



When you consider the sheer number of individuals surveyed (over 16 million), the percentages are pretty staggering. That said, we can tend to think of numbers as just being numbers and, in a sense, detach from them - you know, that it happens to others and not us. So, let's make things a bit more real...

Almost half (45%) indicated they had experienced a mental illness in their lifetime, which translates to over 7 million people. Around 1 in 5 people indicated that they experienced a mental illness in the past 12 months. 

The Top 3 disorders identified for those who experienced a mental illness in the past 12 months were:

  1. Anxiety disorders
  2. Mood disorders
  3. Substance use disorders

So far we all seem to still be talking about numbers and it can seem a bit irrelevant to us. So let's make things a bit more real because Mental Health isn't just a statistic...

Think about all of the people that you know. If 45% of Australian surveyed indicated they had experienced a mental illness in their lifetime, what does that mean for your circle of friends and family? If 1 in 5 people went through something in the past 12 months, what does that mean for who you come across each and every day?

What do we see when someone is anxious? What do we see when someone is depressed? What do we see when someone has a substance use disorder? We may have our ideas about what it looks like, but let's take a closer look.

Anxiety and mood disorders may result in someone avoiding situations, yet instead of thinking about someone as being genuinely distressed we may label them as "pikers" or "antisocial", or that they "can't handle any pressure", or believe that they should "toughen up" or "just get over it". 

Substance use disorders don't just relate to recreational drug use. Alcohol use features heavily when talking about substance use disorders (more about this later on this month), yet while we socialise with alcohol we don't seem to check in with our friends when they have difficulties with it.

See where we're headed? Yes, we're talking about the elephant in the room - stigma surrounding mental health. We'll blog more about mental health and stigma in October, but we we just wanted to flag this issue up front as it's a significant barrier to seeking help. If stigma is to be overcome it has to start with our own attitudes.



Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 4326.0, 2007. ABS: Canberra.

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