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Wesley Suicide Prevention Services

About mental health

About mental health

Mental health, as defined by the Australian Health Ministers, 2003, is “a state of emotional and social wellbeing. It influences how an individual copes with the normal stresses of life and whether he or she can achieve his or her potential. Mental health describes the capacity of individuals and groups to interact, inclusively and equitably with one another and with their environment, in ways that promote subjective wellbeing and optimise opportunities for development and use of mental abilities.”

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Mental health is one of Australia’s National Health Priority Areas. A person’s mental health, as with physical health, is determined by multiple social, psychological and biological factors. According to the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, mental health “may be impacted by individual or societal factors, including economic disadvantage, poor housing, lack of social support and the level of access to, and use of, health services. A person's socio-economic circumstances (eg employment), may impact on their likelihood of developing a mental disorder.” (National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, ABS, 2007, cat. no. 4326.0)

The Wesley Report: Keeping Minds Well (2010) found that mental health problems affect the majority of people (53 per cent) in New South Wales at some point in their lives. This represents more than 2.8 million people. The survey found women are more likely than men to perceive that they suffer from mental illness, as are those in rural areas compared to metro areas where the proportion rises to 60 per cent.

The most common mental health problem people feel they suffer from is depression, with one in four people self-reporting that they are affected. Estimates for the lifetime incidence of this condition vary from around one in four to one in five people. It is clear, however, that the incidence obtained in The Wesley Report: Keeping Minds Well is higher. This increase could be accounted for by the self-reporting methodology used.

Depression rates are higher in rural areas where the incidence approaches half (46 per cent). Three in 10 people have suffered from anxiety, which is the second most common mental illness. Women are more likely to feel they suffer from anxiety than men, with the incidence rising to more than a third (36 per cent). Women are more likely to feel they suffer from a phobia than men, although it may be that women are simply more comfortable reporting an illness.

Disturbingly, a third of those who believe they are depressed do not seek any treatment, and almost half those who feel they are suffering from anxiety. The proportion for other conditions is more striking with almost nine in 10 self-reported phobia sufferers not seeking treatment. A majority of those with eating disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) do not seek help. Eating disorders in particular are highly likely to be hidden by sufferers due to the social stigma attached. OCD may be highly unreported due to a larger proportion of sufferers reporting severity as ‘mild’.

Conditions which are likely to have a major detrimental impact on quality of life are more likely to be diagnosed and treated, such as psychotic disorders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), although around a quarter of those claiming to have these conditions are not diagnosed by a professional.

Suicide in Australia

Suicide is a major public health concern in Australia today that affects people from all walks of life and impacts communities, workplaces, families and individuals. It is an extremely complex social issue and the causes behind death by suicide are many and varied. Suicide accounts for more than 2,000 deaths a year in Australia. Factors related to suicide include issues of self-harm and suicidal ideation—thinking about or planning suicide.

The findings below are based on the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) statistics, released in March 2014 (Causes of Death, Australia, 2012. Catalogue No 3303.0) and provide a brief snapshot of suicide in Australia today:

  • In 2012, 1,901 males and 634 females died by suicide, a total of 2,535 deaths, which equates to an average of 6.9 deaths by suicide in Australia each day.
  • For those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, the suicide rate is 2.5 times higher for males and 3.4 times higher for females than for the corresponding non-Indigenous population.
  • In 2012, three-quarters (75 per cent) of people who died by suicide were male, making suicide the tenth leading cause of death for males. Females comprised 25 per cent of people who died by suicide.
  • The highest age specific suicide rate for males in 2012 was in the 85+ age group (37.6 per 100,000). This rate was considerably higher than other age groups, with the next highest age specific suicide rate being in the 80–84 year age group (28.1 per 100,000) and the 45–49 year age group (26.9 per 100,000). The lowest age-specific suicide rate for males was in the 15–19 year age group (9.3 per 100,000) and the 0–14 year age group (0.3 per 100,000).
  • In 2012, over a quarter of deaths of males in the 20–24, 25–29 and 30–34 year age groups were due to suicide (28.7, 26.5 and 27.5 per cent, respectively).
  • The highest age specific suicide rate for females in 2012 was in the 80–84 age group (9.5 per 100,000), closely followed by the 50–54 age group (9.0 per 100,000) and the 15–19 age group (8.3 per 100,000). The lowest age specific suicide rate for females was observed in the 65–69 age group (4.1 per 100,000) and the 0–14 age group (0.4 per 100,000).
  • For females, suicide deaths comprise a higher proportion of total deaths in younger age groups compared with older age groups (32.6 per cent of deaths of 15–19 year olds and 25.2 per cent of deaths of 20–24 year olds).
  • Suicide accounted for 1.7 per cent of all deaths in Australia in 2012.

The Wesley Report: Keeping Minds Well

Find out more about mental health issues in our community.

The Wesley Report