Mental health of young people in Australia


Page last updated: October 2000

It has long been suggested that children and adolescents experience a high rate of mental health problems. Until recently, there was little evidence to either support or refute this claim. I am therefore pleased to endorse this report, which provides valuable information about the mental health and wellbeing of young Australians.

Described in this report are the findings of the child and adolescent component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing which represent the first reliable, national information on the burden of mental illness in children and adolescents aged 4 to 17.

Not content to merely establish prevalence, the authors of this study surveyed 4,500 children and adolescents from households across Australia to determine how mental health impacts on quality of life and the extent to which children and adolescents suffering from a mental health problem access appropriate services.

The findings reveal that 14 per cent of children and adolescents in Australia have mental health problems. This is very similar to the prevalence identified in previous Australian and overseas surveys. The consistency of these results gives us a high level of confidence in their accuracy. The survey also found that family doctors, school-based counsellors and paediatricians provide the services that are most frequently used by young people with mental health problems. However, only one out of every four young people with mental health problems receives professional help.

Mental health problems can have a significantly adverse impact on children, adolescents, parents and families, particularly in relation to quality of life. It is therefore important that interventions provide broadly based help for the parents and families of young people with problems as well as for the young people themselves. We cannot rely on specialist services alone to provide direct care for all those with problems. We must continue the focus on mental health promotion, prevention and treatment programs and develop alternative approaches to reduce the prevalence of these problems.

It is also important that we continue our focus on establishing effective partnerships across the health, education and welfare sectors to better address the mental health needs of young Australians. They are our future. Investing in their wellbeing can only ensure better outcomes for all of us. This is our challenge.

Finally, I commend the authors of this report for their contributions to this important issue. I appreciate that such reports represent the hard work of many and take the opportunity here to acknowledge staff of the University of Adelaide and the National Collaborating Centres for the Survey of Mental Health of Young People who have provided significant time and expertise. Their commitment is admirable.

Dr Michael Wooldridge
Minister for Health and Aged Care