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Report confirms one in five adults experience mental illness.

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Media release


The Hon Dr Michael Wooldridge

Minister for Health and Family Services


MW 43/98 12 March 1998




One in five Australian adults experience some form of mental illness e ach year with the highest levels of mental disorder experienced by unemployed people, those who are separated or divorced and by young adults, according to a nationwide survey launched today by the Federal Minister for Health and Family Services, Dr Michael Wooldridge.


Conducted and compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics the report, Mental Health and Wellbeing- Profile of Adult Australians, is the most comprehensive data collection of its kind ever attempted in Australia and arguably the world and provides detailed information prevalence of mental illness among adults, the amount of disablement associated with these disorders, and service utilisation by persons with mental disorders.


Initiated as part of the National Mental Health Strategy, the Survey was developed after intensive collaboration between Australian expert groups including consumer representatives, and surveyed over 10,000 Australians aged over 18.


"The survey shows that mental illness is both widespread and common and confirms the estimate, based on overseas data, of the 1993 Human Rights Commission Report, chaired by Brian Burdekin that one in five Australians will develop a mental illness," Dr Wooldridge said.


"It also shows that there is a higher prevalence of mental illness - 27% to be precise - in young adults aged 18-24 that tapers off with age - falling to 6.1% for those people aged 65 and over. This confirms the general thrust of our current national focus on early identification and mental health services for young people.


"The report also shows that prevalence rates for men and women were similar, although there are differences in the type of disorders affecting people in these groups.


"Australian women tend to have higher rates of anxiety disorder and suffer from depression more often than men, while Australian men were twice as likely as women to have substance use disorders with alcohol use disorders being more common than drug use disorders," he said


Dr Wooldridge said the report also showed the extent to which many people are deeply affected by mental illnesses and how this affects their relationships with their families, their sense of themselves and their capacity to live a normal, functioning life.


"People with a mental illness are three times more likely to be 'out of role', that is unable to undertake normal activity including going to work," Dr Wooldridge said.


"This figure is even higher for those people who have a 'combination of disorders', in other words, people who have an anxiety disorder or are depressed or are drinking too much alcohol.


"On average these people have had six days 'out of role' every month, and literally are disabled from carrying on with their normal life," he said.


Dr Wooldridge said he was particularly disturbed t hat the report found that a significant number of people with a mental illness, as high as 60 per cent, are not using the services available.


"This is a real concern, because it means that there are people with a mental illness who in all likelihood sho uld be using services and are not.


"This is one of the critical areas that needs to be further analysed so that this report can inform service design and delivery. We need to examine carefully and determine who should be using services, to try and ident ify what barriers might exist for those people who need mental health services," he said.


There were some indications in this report that progress is being made in providing community based care to people with a mental illness.


38% of people with a m ental disorder used community based services and 29% had seen a GP in the prior 12 months. Less than 1% had a hospital admission over the previous 12 months.


Dr Wooldridge said that the ultimate value of the report would be that the information it conta ins will help redress the shortcomings of services, which are being reoriented to help people with a mental illness carry on a relatively normal, functioning life.


Two complementary surveys currently underway would provide more detailed information about mental illness among children and adolescents, and about low prevalence disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder whose prevalence in the community is t oo low to be examined in a general population survey, but who constitute about 60% of those people who use specialised mental health services.


"This report now confirms that one in five people in our community will one day live with the sometimes major burden of mental illness and be deeply affected by it. People with a mental illness are not them but us. One in five of us," Dr Wooldridge said.


"The provision of proper services and community education about mental illnesses is an urgent and important task and we need to work hard and to work together to ensure that our care of Australians with a mental illness is far better than in the past," he said.


A summary of the key findings is attached


Media contact: Bill Royce, Dr Wooldridge's office (02) 6277 7220



Highlights from Mental Health and Wellbeing Profile of Adults Australia 1997


·  almost one in five Australians met criteria for a mental disorder at some time during the 12 months prior to the survey


·  men and women had similar overall prevalence rates of mental disorder but it is highest for both men and women living alone. This was the case for anxiety, affective and substance use disorders individually. Overall the prevalence rates decreased as the number of people living in the household increased.


·  the prevalence of mental disorder generally decreases with age (18-24 year olds  having highest prevalence at 27% with 65+ having a prevalence of 6.1%). This relates to the importance of early identification and treatment


·  prevalence rates are: anxiety disorders 9.7%, affective disorders 5.8% (of which depression is 5.1%), and substance use disorders 7.7% (of which 6.5% is alcohol related)


·  rates of mental disorder were also highest among those who were separated or divorced (24% for men and 27% for women)


·  women are more likely than men to experience anxiety disorders (12% compared with 7.1% and affective disorders (7.4% compared with 4.2%)


·  men were more than twice as likely as women to have substance use disorders (11% compared with 4.5%) with alcohol use disorders being more common than drug use disorders


·  rates of mental disorder were highest for those unemployed or not in the workforce (a prevalence rate of 26.9% male and 26.4% female for unemployed people compared to a prevalence rate of 15.1% male and 14.7% female for people employed full time)


·  women were more likely to have anxiety and affective disorders in combination while men were more likely to have substance use disorders in combination with either affective or anxiety disorders


·  the survey also collected information on a specific number of chronic and current physical conditions, asthma, heart trouble, diabetes, cancer. In every age group women were more likely to report physical conditions than men. Overall 41% of women compared with 36% of men reported physical conditions and the prevalence increased with age from 21% of adults aged 25-34 to 77% of those aged 65+


·  disability increases with age with women more generally likely to experience disability than men. Those with a mental disorder averaged three days out of role over a four week period compared to one day out of role for those with no physical or mental condition (days out of role means not undertaking normal activity because of health problems, this could include not going to work)


·  combinations of disorders have a cumulative affect on disability those with physical and mental disorders (anxiety, affective, and substance use) in combination being the worst affected (an average of 6 day out of role in the four weeks prior to interview)


·  people with mental disorder use services (38% used a health service and 29% consulted a GP in the 12 months prior to the survey). Although, this also identifies a large unserviced need


·  hospital admissions for mental health problems were rare (less than 1% over the 12 month period)


·  using health services for a mental health problem was closely related to type of mental disorder of those with affective disorders only, approximately 56% used services for mental health problems compared with 28% of those with anxiety, 14% of those with substance use disorders, 66% of those with combinations of mental disorders were most likely to use services for mental health problems


·  service use for mental health problems increased with disability


·  women were more likely than men to use services for mental health problems.