Mental health issues more common among young Australians, national survey suggests

Health survey by Australian Bureau of Statistics also finds young people more likely to binge drink and vape

Younger Australians are more likely to be anxious and depressed and also to binge drink and vape than older people, the latest health survey from the bureau of statistics suggests.

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

Those figures steadily declined as people got older, and by the time Australians hit 75, just over 7% had anxiety and the same percentage had depression.

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

“Every disorder” from anxiety and depression to eating disorders surged from puberty to peak when people were in their 20s, he said. “It’s a combination of biology and socioeconomic factors.”

People were becoming adults, dealing with moving out of home, finding their identities, trying to start a career and finding an intimate partner.

“There’s huge developmental stress, and the body and brain are still developing in a physical sense,” McGorry said.

“And [there are] headwinds like pandemics, climate change, world wars, and the wealth transfer … 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, younger people were “too grown up for the child services and too early stage for the adult services”. He said Headspace – where he is a founding board member – had developed a blueprint to overcome that issue but it needed funding to be expanded.

He is hopeful that whoever wins the May election will come up with the money. “I feel like I’m pushing on an open door,” he said.

The ABS found 10.7% of adults were daily smokers; for those aged 18 to 24 it was 8.3%. While 83.3% of the younger age group had never smoked, 21.7% had tried vaping compared to just under 10% of adults overall. It was the first time the ABS surveyed people’s vaping habits.

Laura Bajurny, an Alcohol and Drug Foundation spokesperson, said young people could easily get both nicotine and non-nicotine vapes online, that both were harmful, and that they were being aggressively marketed.

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

The ABS survey also found one in four Australians drinks too much.

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

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People in the 18 to 24 age bracket were less likely than the average to have consumed more than ten drinks in the past week, but more likely to have consumed five or more on any day at least once a month.

That’s consistent with “heavy episodic drinking”, Bajurny said.

“The tragedy is that kind of heavy alcohol consumption is connected to some of the most common causes of death for young people – accidents and injuries including drownings, motor vehicle crashes.

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

It also found almost eight in 10 Australians have a long-term health condition. The conditions listed include cancer, diabetes and asthma, as well as short or longsightedness, hay fever and allergies.

Of the 78.6% of people reporting a condition in 2020-21, about half had a chronic condition.

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


Tory Shepherd

The GuardianTramp

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