Australian Bureau of Statistics National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 2020-21

Released by the ABS on Friday, 22 July 2022

The first phase of the latest National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing was conducted between December 2020 and July 2021. It provides an update from the last survey conducted in 2007 on lifetime and 12 month prevalence of mental disorders, suicidal behaviours and information on service use.

A sample of 5,554 people completed the 2020-21 survey, with results then converted to estimates for the total Australian population aged 16-85 years.

‘Mental disorders’ used in the survey are defined by the diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organisation International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10).

A summary of key insights in the 2020-21 data is provided below.

Prevalence of mental disorders

The survey provides an estimate of the total number and proportion of people aged 16-85 years who have experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime and the past 12 months:

  • Over two in five Australians aged 16-85 years (43.7% or 8.6 million people) had experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life. In 2007 45% (7.3 million people) reported a mental disorder in their lifetime.
  • One in five (21.4% or 4.2 million people) had experienced symptoms of a mental disorder in the past 12 months. In 2007, 20% (3.2 million people) reported a mental disorder in the past 12 months.
  • Anxiety was the most common mental disorder experienced in 2020-21 (16.8% or 3.3 million people). Anxiety was also the most common mental disorder reported in 2007 (14.4% or 2.3 million people).

When looking at age groups and differences between males and females:

  • In 2020-21, almost two in five people (39.6%) aged 16-24 years had experienced the symptoms of a mental disorder in the past 12 months. Just over a quarter of 16-24 year olds (26.4%) reported a mental disorder in 2007.
  • In the past 12 months, 24.6% of females experienced a mental disorder in 2020-21, compared with 18% of males. In 2007, the proportion of females experiencing a mental disorder in the past 12 months was 22% and 18% for males.
  • In 2020-21, females were more likely than males to have experienced an anxiety disorder in the past 12 months (21% of females compared to 12.4% of males), while males were almost twice as likely as females to have had a substance use disorder (4.4% of males compared to 2.3% of females).

Lived experience of suicide and self-harm

Lived experience

The National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing 2020-21 explored a number of aspects of lived experience of suicide. This included whether a person had experienced suicidal thoughts or behaviours, both in their lifetime and in the past 12 months. It also explored whether they had been close to someone who had experienced suicidal distress or taken their life.

  • In 2020-21, one in six Australians (16.7% or approx. 3.3 million people) aged 16-85 years had experienced suicidal behaviours in their lifetime.
  • Of the 3.3 million people who had ever experienced suicidal behaviours in 2020-21:
    • 16.7% had ever had serious thoughts of taking their own life
    • 7.7% had ever made a plan to take their own life
    • 4.8% had ever attempted to take their own life.
  • Females were more likely than males to have experienced suicidal behaviours in their lifetime (18.7% of females compared to 14.5% of males).
  • In 2020-21, 3.4% of Australians aged 16-85 years had experienced suicidal behaviours in the last 12 months.
  • Of people who reported suicidal behaviour in the past 12 months in 2020-21, almost three-quarters (73.3%) had also experienced symptoms of a mental disorder in the last 12 months.
  • More than one-third (38%) of people aged 16-85 years have ever been close to someone who has taken or attempted to take their own life.
  • 5.9% have been close to someone who has taken or attempted to take their own life in the last 12 months.

Self-harm

Self-harm refers to a person intentionally causing pain or damage to their own body. This behaviour may be motivated as a way of expressing or controlling distressing feelings or thoughts. Self-harm and suicide are distinct and separate acts although some people who self-harm are at an increased risk of suicide.1

Self-harm was included in the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing for the first time in 2020-21.

In 2020-21, 8.8% of Australians aged 16-85 years had self-harmed in their lifetime:

  • Females were more likely to have self-harmed than males (11.4% of females compared to 6.2% of males)
  • Almost one in four (24.7%) females aged 16-34 years had self-harmed in their lifetime
  • One in fourteen (7%) females aged 16-34 years had self-harmed in the last 12 months.

Use of services

In 2020-21, 3.4 million Australians aged 16-85 years (17.5%) saw a health professional for their mental health, an increase from 12% (1.9 million) in 2007. In 2020-21:

  • 22.8% of females saw a health professional for their mental health, compared to 12.2% of males
  • 12.9% of people saw a general practitioner for their mental health
  • 7.6% saw a psychologist.

There were 4.2 million people who experienced a mental disorder in the past 12 months in 2020-21, 47.1% sought help from a health professional for their mental health. In comparison, in 2007, 35% accessed services. In 2020-21:

  • 54.7% of all females who had experienced a mental disorder in the past 12 months saw a health professional for their mental health, compared to 37% of males
  • 47.7% of people aged 16-34 years who experienced a mental disorder in the past 12 months saw a health professional for their mental health. This is an increase from 2007, with 23.3% of those aged 16-34 years having used services for their mental health.

For those aged 16-34 years with a mental disorder in 2020-21 who had mental health consultations with professionals for their mental health (989,000 people):

  • 35.3% reported their need for counselling was not met or only partially met
  • 32% reported their need for information was not met or only partially met.

In addition to seeking support from a health professional for mental health, 4.4% of people aged 16-85 (864,100 people) accessed other services for their mental health via phone or digital technologies, such as crisis support or counselling services, online treatment programs and tools to improve mental health, and mental health support groups and forums. In 2020-21:

  • Females were more than twice as likely as males to have used a digital service (6% of females compared to 2.9% of males)
  • 8% of people aged 16-34 years used a digital service in 2020-21, compared to 0.6% of people aged 65-85 years.

For support and advice on safely communicating about these findings please refer to the Mindframe guidelines.

For the full report, please refer to the ABS website for other topics including further breakdown of mental disorders and association with social and health characteristics, as well as aspects of disordered eating, psychological distress, and strategies used for mental health.