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ABS National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing survey results
for 2020-21

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The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released the results of the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, revealing key insights about our community nationwide during 2020-21.

Off the back of a global pandemic, the Black Summer bushfires and east coast floods, it’s clear Australians have been doing it tough recently and the results from the study certainly underline this.

So, what exactly have we learned?


Frequency of mental health issues in 2020-21

For a snapshot of Australia’s mental health, let’s look at some of the key numbers…

Over two in five Australians (44%) have experienced a mental health issue at some point in their life.

More than one in five people (21%) have said they experienced the symptoms of a mental health issue in the last 12-months, with anxiety-related disorders the most common. Young people were at even higher risk, with almost two in five (40%) people aged 16-24 experiencing a mental health issue in 2020-21.

The survey results also showed women to be experiencing higher rates of anxiety and affective disorders overall when compared to men. While rates of substance use disorders are double for men compared to women and most frequent for people aged 16-24.

In addition, very high levels of psychological distress are more prevalent for young people, occurring twice as often for people aged 16-34 compared to those aged 65-85. Again, with women the most likely cohort.

Prevalence of suicidal thoughts and behaviours

Survey results have highlighted that up to one in six (17%) Australians experience suicidal thoughts or behaviours in their life and 3% of us in the past 12-months.  Women are shown to experience this at higher rates than men.

Sadly, two in five (38%) of Australians have had someone close to them who had taken or attempted to take their own life.


On the Line acknowledges that there are many complex reasons why someone may want to end their life and often there is no single reason why a person attempts or dies by suicide.

If you or someone you know needs support, you can contact one of our free 24/7 helplines:

Suicide Call Back Service1300 659 467
SuicideLine Victoria1300 651 251
MensLine Australia1300 78 99 78

If it is an emergency, please call 000.

Young women revealed as high-risk cohort 

While overall, mental ill-health and distress have trended high across the community during this period for Australians, the data shows young women to be at the highest risk.

The study results emphasised this, revealing that nearly half of young women aged 16-24 years have experienced a mental health issue in the last 12-months, compared to almost one-third of young men. Young women experience higher rates of anxiety, with 41% reporting an anxiety disorder in the last 12-months.

While the pandemic and other global issues are thought to be contributing factors, as well as the impacts of social media use, there is no clear and definitive explanation.

The silver lining to these figures is the rate women are seeking professional help, which the ABS survey results showed to be the highest (23%) of all cohorts last year. As investments into mental health policies, services and facilities continue to grow, we hope to see rates of mental health issues curb for higher risk cohorts as support for the overall wellbeing of all Australians increases and stigma reduces.


National survey research and impact ongoing

So, just how significant is this research and how will it inform the future of our mental health sector?

Well, it’s the first of its kind in over 15 years, with the last similar study conducted in 2007 when fewer areas of mental health and wellbeing were explored.

For the 2020-21 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, the ABS surveyed 5,500 people between the ages of 16 and 18 for the first phase of the study. In 2023, another layer of results will be added from 11,000 people who are currently being surveyed. The overarching aim is for the data to help shape the mental health services for our community in the future.


If you or someone you know needs support, please reach out to one of our free counselling services.

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