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Prevalence of mental illness

May 5, 2014

Mental illness is very common. One in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any given year (1). The most common mental illnesses are depressive, anxiety and substance use disorders. These are often seen occurring in combination as well.

More than half of the people experiencing mental illness do not access any treatment (2,3). Their symptoms are exacerbated by delayed treatment due to serious problems in detection and accurate diagnosis. The proportion of people with mental illness accessing treatment is half that of people with physical illness (3). It is crucial for all of us to think about the mental health of ourselves and those around us.

When communicating about what it means to be healthy, people often think of physical health alone, but not their mental health. Acknowledging mental health is often avoided due to various stigmas and labels attached by our society.

On a positive note, there has been a societal shift toward embracing positive mental health. A continuous effort is made to increase community awareness and mental health promotion through help, support and information that is becoming more accessible and prevalent.

As an example, when someone is under chronic stress, it begins to negatively affect his or her physical and mental health. Many people encounter stress from multiple sources, including work; money, health, and relationship worries; and media overload.

Chronic stress increases the risk of developing multiple health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and a weakened immune system. Chronic stress also affects a person’s mental health. Many studies sho a correlation between stress and the development of mood disorders such as anxiety disorders and depression. These will be explored in coming articles on Desi Australia’s Magazine.

If you experience persisting unpleasant negative mental and/or physical symptoms/distress nearly every day or for more than two weeks, you should talk to your general practitioner about how you are feeling and about treatment options to suit your situation.

Where to get help:

Your doctor
Your local mental health service
Lifeline ph: 13 11 14


  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 4326.0, 2007. ABS: Canberra.
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2007). The Burden of Disease and Injury in Australia. AIHW: Canberra.
  • Commonwealth of Australia (2010). National Mental Health Report 2010. Canberra, Australia.