Department of Health

Among children and young people, mental health and substance use disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide (Erskine et al. 2015).

Mental ill-health contributes to nearly half of the burden of disease in young people (Headspace 2011). A recent study found six of the top 10 reasons for referring a child to a paediatrician were mental health issues (Hiscock, et al. 2017).

Half of mental health disorders start by age 14 and three quarters by age 24 (Department of Education and Training 2017). This indicates the importance of identifying and addressing mental health issues in children (Department of Education and Training 2017).

A major study in 2015 found that the most common mental disorder in Australian children and adolescents was attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), followed by anxiety disorders, major depressive disorder and conduct disorder (Lawrence et al. 2015).

Victorian schools have a number of strategies to promote healthy minds and positive mental health, including creating safe environments, teaching social and emotional learning and recognising the important role that families play in promoting mental health (Department of Education and Training 2017).

Approximately $200 million dollars is invested annually in schools and other settings to fund a range of services, including social workers and psychologists, to promote mental health in children(Department of Education and Training 2017).

Intentional self-harm in young people

Intentional self-harm includes a range of behaviours that cause direct and deliberate harm to oneself, including non-suicidal self-injury, suicidal behaviour and suicide.

Common motivations for deliberate self-injury include self-punishment and difficulties with emotion regulation (Centre for Suicide Prevention Studies 2010).

Measuring the problem, however, is challenging because there are difficulties in identifying intentional self-harm cases in hospital data.

Some people may choose not to disclose that their injuries from intentional self-harm, or they may be unable to do so because of the nature of their injuries or because their motives were ambiguous (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014).

Higher rates of self-harm occur in women, and intentional self-injury rates are particularly high for young women aged 15–24 years (Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit 2017).

The 2015 Child and Adolescent Health Survey found self-harm was markedly higher in young people with major depressive disorder (Department of Health 2015).

There has been a marked increase in rates of Victorian children and young people presenting for self-harm at emergency departments (Victorian Injury surveillance Unit 2017). This may in part be due to improved awareness of self-harm among hospital staff and the community more broadly.

Find out more

The Chief Health Officer's Causes of death page discusses intentional self-harm in adults.

The Chief Health Officer's mental illness page discusses mental health in adults.

The State of Victoria's Children Report 2016External Link , published by the Department of Education and Training in 2017.


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014, Suicide and hospitalised self-harm in Australia: trends and analysis, Injury research and statistics, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.

Centre for Suicide Prevention Studies 2010, The Australian national epidemiological study of self-injury, Centre for Suicide Prevention Studies, Brisbane.

Department of Education and Training 2017, The state of Victoria's children 2016: why place matters, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.

Department of Health 2015, The mental health of children and adolescents: report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental health and Wellbeing, Commonwealth Government of Australia, Canberra.

Erskine H, Moffitt T, Copeland W, Costello E, Ferrari A, Patton G, Degenhardt L, Vos T, Whiteford H and Scott J 2015, ‘A heavy burden on young minds: the global burden of mental and substance abuse disorders in children and youth’, Psychological Medicine, vol. 45, no. 7.

Headspace 2011, Position paper: young people's mental health, National Youth Mental Health Foundation.

Hiscock H, Danchin M, Efron D, Gulenc A, Hearps S, Freed G, Perera P and Wake M 2017, ‘Trends in paediatric practice in Australia: 2008 and 2013 national audits from the Australian Paediatric Research Network’, Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, vol. 53.

Lawrence D, Johnson S, Hafekost J, Boterhoven de Haan K, Sawyer M, Ainley J and Zubrick S 2015 ‘The mental health of children and adolescents: report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, Commonwealth Government of Australia, Canberra.

Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit 2017, Hazard, Monash University Accident Research Centre, Melbourne.

Reviewed 24 October 2023

Your health: Report of the Chief Health Officer, Victoria, 2018

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