Mental health is an essential ingredient of individual and community wellbeing, and it significantly contributes to the social, cultural and economic life of Victoria.
On some indicators, many Victorians report positively on indicators which can contribute to mental wellbeing: for example, 78.1 per cent of Victorians report that they have very high or high satisfaction with life (Department of Health and Human Services 2018a).
Each year, however, one in five Victorians will experience a mental health condition, and 45 per cent of Victorians experiencing one during their lifetime (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008).
Certain population groups are at higher risk of poor mental health and mental illness because of greater exposure and vulnerability to unfavourable social, economic and environmental circumstances.
Mental disorders are a significant cause of disability or non-fatal disease burden across Australia.;
Nearly one-quarter (24.5 per cent) of Victorian adults report being diagnosed with depression or anxiety by a doctor.
About one in seven report high or very high levels of psychological distress (an important risk factor for a number of physical and mental health conditions) (Department of Health and Human Services, 2018a).
A large body of research shows that social isolation and loneliness have detrimental physical and mental health consequences (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, Baker, Harris and Stephenson 2015).
Feeling connected to others; being able to cope with the usual stresses of life; and having the opportunity and capacity to contribute to community and be productive are all critical to mental health. Adults who do not feel valued by society or do not trust other people are more likely to report psychological distress, low income and poor or fair self-reported health.
Burden of disease
Twelve per cent of Australia's disease burden is due to mental and behavioural disorders, with most of the burden being non-fatal (disability) burden (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016).
Depression and anxiety
Overall, 24.5 per cent of Victorian adults in 2016 reported ever being diagnosed with depression or anxiety by a doctor. This was significantly higher in females (28.7 per cent) compared with males (20.0 per cent) (Department of Health and Human Services 2018).
The proportion of adults reporting a diagnosis of depression or anxiety was similar across ages 18 through to 84. Males aged 85 years or older, however, were less likely to report ever having been diagnosed compared with men of other age groups (Department of Health and Human Services 2018a).
The lifetime prevalence of self-reported doctor-diagnosed depression or anxiety increased significantly for both males and females between 2003 and 2016 (Department of Health and Human Services 2018a).
In 2016, 14.8 per cent of Victorian adults experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress. This was significantly higher in females (16.5 per cent) compared to males (13.2 per cent) (Department of Health and Human Services 2018a).
Very high levels of psychological distress were significantly higher in men and women who had not completed high school; were not in the labour force; or had a total annual household income of less than $40,000 (Department of Health and Human Services 2018a).
Thirty per cent of Aboriginal respondents in the 2012–13 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health survey reported high or very high psychological distress, nearly three times that of the non-Aboriginal rate (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013).
Around one in six (18 per cent) Victorian students in years 5, 8 and 11 experience psychological distress (Department of Education and Training 2017).
Social isolation and loneliness
A recent survey estimates that one in four Australian adults experience loneliness (Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University 2018).
Social isolation and loneliness can occur across the community, but can be more prevalent in certain group, including:
- older people
- those from lower socioeconomic groups
- Aboriginal people
- people who speak a language other than English
- people living with a disability
- in housing stress or homelessness
- those who are single, childless or living alone
- those with low levels of literacy where this reduces access to information and services (Commissioner for Senior Victorians 2016).
A study of older Victorians found 10 per cent of people aged 60 or older experienced loneliness and this increased as people aged (Commissioner for Senior Victorians 2016).
This study also identified ‘life events, traumas and transitions’ as risk factors for loneliness in older Victorians.
Examples of things that could trigger loneliness or worsen existing social isolation include:
- relocation to a new area
- adjustment to loss of a partner
- the onset of health conditions
- changes in lifestyle associated with becoming a carer
- the loss of a driver's licence.
Social and civic trust
Trust is essential within social systems to enable cooperative and altruistic behaviours that enhance collective wellbeing and the attainment of collective goals. Trust in our civic institutions and the people who run them, such as our healthcare system, is therefore essential in order to maximise an individual’s health and wellbeing.
Social trust refers to trust among casual acquaintances or strangers in everyday social interactions, while civic trust refers to trust in public institutions and the respect that citizens are accorded in their relationships with those institutions.
Overall, 26.8 per cent of Victorian adults agreed that most people could be trusted; there was no difference between men and women (Department of Health and Human Services, 2018a). A further 55.1 per cent agreed that most people could ‘sometimes’ be trusted; again, there was no difference between men and women. There was a significant increase in the proportion of men and women who definitely felt that most people could be trusted in line with increasing total annual household income (Department of Health and Human Services, 2018a).
For adults, 26.8 per cent feel most people can be trusted (Department of Health and Human Services, 2018a).
Support for Victorians with mental illness
In 2017-18, $1.38 billion was invested in mental health clinical services in Victoria, with an additional $120 million provided for Community mental health support services (Department of Health and Human Services, 2018b). Services include hospital-based care as well as a range of targeted programs for at-risk communities, including farmers, LGBTIQ+, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, new mothers and families (Department of Health and Human Services, 2018b). Specialist training for interpreters who work in mental health settings also strengthen the care for people from diverse backgrounds (Department of Health and Human Services, 2018b).
Mental health and climate change
Climate change affects the physical and mental health and wellbeing of the community through direct and indirect impacts on health and the social determinants of health (Watts et al 2015).
Natural disasters can be distressing and traumatic and for some people the stress associated with a traumatic event can impact their mental health (Watts et al 2015).
Climate change is also likely to have an adverse effect on the economy, which could lead to unemployment, stress, food insecurity and social isolation (Watts et al 2015).
Climate change disproportionally causes hardship for vulnerable populations (Watts et al 2015).
Low-income groups suffer more from natural disasters due to reduced ability to prepare for and adapt to these events. Yet all communities can be impacted by climate change and experience an adverse impact on mental health (Watts et al 2015).
Improved understanding, preparedness for, and mitigation of, the effects of climate change are needed to contribute to building resilient communities that are less affected by major climatic events such as storms and floods (Watts et al 2015).
The Victorian public health and wellbeing plan 2015–2019 emphasises the importance of adapting to climate change and building community resilience as part of the government’s long-term agenda to improve the health of Victorians (Department of Health and Human Services 2015).
In Victoria, mental health support is part of disaster response. The Victorian Victorian Bushfires Case Support program Victorian Government provides free counselling and other wellbeing support activities in fire-affected areas (Victorian Government 2018).
Support includes counselling services, community engagement activities and GP locums.
The department continues to support agricultural communities as they face drought and ongoing dry conditions, with targeted grants for outreach services to support vulnerable members of the community and to provide counselling services.
Find out more
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008, National survey of mental health and wellbeing 2007: summary of results, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013, Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health survey: first results, Australia, 2012–13, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016, Australian burden of disease study: impact and cuases of illness and death in Australia 2011, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.
Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University 2018, Australian loneliness report: a survey exploring the loneliness levels of Australians and the impact on their health and wellbeing. Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University, Melbourne.
Commissioner for Senior Victorians 2016, Ageing is everyone’s business: a report on isolation and lonelieness among senior Victorians, Commissioner for Senior Victorians, Melbourne.
Department of Education and Training 2017, Victorian student health and wellbeing survey, 'About you': summary findings, Department of Education and Training, Melbourne.
Department of Health and Human Services 2015, Victorian public health and wellbeing plan 2015 – 2019, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.
Department of Health and Human Services 2018a, Victorian population health survey 2016, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.
Department of Health and Human Services 2018b, Victoria's mental health services annual report 2017–18, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.
Holt-Lunstad J, Smith T, Baker M, Harris T and Stephenson D 2015, 'Loneliness and social isoloation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review', Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 10, no. 2.
Victorian Government 2018, Victorian Bushfires Case Support Program, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.
Watts N 2015, 'Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health', The Lancet, vol. 386, no. 7.
Reviewed 17 April 2023