The release of 2021 census data has shone a spotlight on the extent of mental distress in the community.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that 2,231,543 people (about one in 12) have a diagnosed mental illness, making mental health the largest single category of chronic illness in Australia.
The Age wrote: “The census found that in a year when calls for mental health support reached record levels as the coronavirus pandemic drove up stress, anxiety and depression, there were about 80,000 more Australians with diagnosed mental health conditions than had arthritis, which was the second most common long-term ailment.”
According to the ABS: “The proportion of those with a long-term health condition increased with age. More than three out of every five (62.9 per cent) people aged 65+ reported having at least one long-term health condition compared with one out of every five (22.1 per cent) 15–34 year olds.
“Females were more likely to report a long-term health condition than males, with 34 per cent (33.9 per cent) of females having one or more long-term health conditions compared with 30 per cent (29.5 per cent) of males.
“Males most commonly reported asthma and mental health conditions, while the most commonly reported long-term health conditions reported by females were arthritis and mental health conditions.”
Jayashri Kulkarni, a professor of psychiatry at Alfred Health and Monash University who specialises in women’s health, told The Age that at the height of the lockdowns she and her colleagues were experiencing record demand for mental health support, particularly among those bearing the brunt of caring responsibilities.
Despite lockdowns easing and restrictions being wound back, Professor Kulkarni said she had observed a recent rise in people presenting with depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
“There are a lot of relationship breakdowns and life-changing issues happening. It is a slightly different ilk to what we were seeing during lockdowns, when many people were presenting with a real sense of panic and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said.
Dr Tamara Cavenett, president of the Australian Psychological Society, told Cosmos: “When it comes to mental healthcare, we’re just at the beginning of ensuring that we have good, high-quality services available, and the staff for them.
“And I think that the data actually shows that we’re not managing Australian’s mental healthcare in the way that we should.”