Mental health problems more common among young Australians, national survey finds | Mental Health

Young Australians are more likely to be anxious and depressed, as well as binge on alcohol and vape than older people, according to the latest health survey from the Bureau of Statistics.

Almost 19% of people aged 15-24 suffered from anxiety and 14% from depression in 2020-21, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest National Health Survey released on Monday.

These numbers steadily declined as people got older, and by the time Australians reached 75, just over 7% suffered from anxiety and the same percentage suffered from depression.

Patrick McGorry, executive director of youth mental health organization Orygen and professor of youth mental health at the University of Melbourne, said a “perfect storm” hit people when they were young.

“All disorders,” from anxiety and depression to eating disorders, increased from puberty to peak when people were in their twenties, he said. “It’s a combination of biological and socio-economic factors.”

People grew up, had to move, find their identity, try to start a career and find an intimate partner.

“There’s tremendous developmental stress, and the body and the brain are still physically developing,” McGorry said.

“And [there are] headwinds like pandemics, climate change, world wars and the transfer of wealth… from young people to baby boomers. They can’t buy houses and they’re under a lot of financial stress.

On top of all that, McGorry said, the young people were “too adult for children’s services and too young for adult services.” He said Headspace – of which he is a founding board member – had developed a plan to overcome this problem, but needed funding to expand.

He hopes whoever wins the May election will find the money. “I feel like I’m pushing on an open door,” he said.

The ABS revealed that 10.7% of adults were daily smokers; for those aged 18 to 24, it was 8.3%. While 83.3% of young people had never smoked, 21.7% had tried vaping, compared to just under 10% of all adults. This was the first time the ABS had investigated people’s vaping habits.

Laura Bajurny, a spokeswoman for the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, said young people can easily get nicotine and non-nicotine vapes online, that both are harmful and are being marketed aggressively.

“Social media marketing around vaping has been very aggressive and targeted at young people,” she said.

The ABS survey also revealed that one in four Australians drink too much.

About one in three men drink more than 10 standard drinks a week, compared to about one in five women.

People aged 18 to 24 were less likely than average to have had more than ten drinks in the previous week, but more likely to have had five or more at least once a month.

That’s consistent with “significant episodic consumption,” Bajurny said.

“The tragedy is that this type of heavy drinking is linked to some of the most common causes of death among young people – accidents and injuries, including drowning, road accidents.

“We know that alcohol consumption is the second most modifiable risk factor for suicide and self-harm in men.”

It also revealed that nearly eight in 10 Australians have a long-term health condition. Conditions listed include cancer, diabetes, and asthma, as well as nearsightedness or farsightedness, hay fever, and allergies.

Of the 78.6% of people declaring an illness in 2020-2021, about half suffered from a chronic illness.

The data was collected differently for the year 2020-21 and cannot be compared to previous years, the ABS said.


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