About 40 per cent of young Australians have experienced mental illness — and it’s high time we do something about it

About 40 per cent of young Australians have experienced mental illness — and it's high time we do something about it

Imagine there was an illness that struck two out of every five young people in Australia.

That many of those young people were unable to go to school, form friendships or take part in important teenage milestones.

And many were so ill that they desperately needed medical care, but couldn’t get it.

We don’t have to imagine — this is the reality facing young Australians right now.

This stark reality was laid bare in the data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in July.

The National Mental Health Survey revealed the annual prevalence of mental ill health in 16 to 24-year-olds had surged from 26 per cent in 2007 to 39 per cent in 2020-21 — an unprecedented increase of 50 per cent in 15 years.

Our young people are in serious trouble.

The mental health of young women is declining even more rapidly than young men. These rates of mental illness are double the level of the rest of the Australian adult population.

If such a dramatic increase in prevalence had occurred in cancer, heart disease or any other major illness, it would be the catalyst for urgent and decisive action.

It would be on the front page of newspapers and leading TV news bulletins and the political leadership would be forced to respond.

But not so far.

The danger zone

We know the transition from childhood to adulthood is the peak period for the emergence of mental ill health and the persistent mental illness disorders of adult life.



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