Mental health awareness is on the rise, but there are a few glaring statistics that show Australians still have more to learn about the impact of mental illness on Australians.
The Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) put the spotlight on mental health awareness during mental health week in October, and its quiz results show improvements in people’s awareness of depression and anxiety, but less understanding of complex mental health conditions.
Many quiz takers – more than 500 completed the quiz – knew that almost half of all Australians will experience a mental health disorder at some stage in their lives, but far fewer knew that half of lifetime mental illnesses will begin by the time a person is between 10 and 15 years old – actually 14 years old.
APHA CEO Mr Michael Roff said while the quiz was by no means scientific, it did illustrate some surprising and interesting gaps in knowledge.
“When you think about it from an insurance perspective, many people might consider dropping their insurance when they are in their mid-40s. The kids are through their early childhood illnesses, the parents probably feel pretty fit and healthy. If they knew the risk of mental health issues developing, would they still end their family cover?” He said.
Mr Roff said in some instances the quiz takers over-estimated the likelihood of a mental health disorder occurring, which may be the result of increased awareness of issues like depression and anxiety.
“Quiz takers thought a third of Australians will suffer from anxiety when the statistics say it is more like a quarter. The number of Australians living with depression or anxiety was estimated at 5 million, over the 3 million in the most recent national survey data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
“There was also awareness around the low number of Australians who actually seek help to manage their condition, which remains a concern.”
While awareness around depression and anxiety seems to be improving, Mr Roff said Australians still struggled to accept significant mental health conditions like bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder and addictions.
“This is where private hospitals are really making a difference in mental health care. They manage some of the very challenging mental health conditions and help patients regain quality of life.”
Mr Roff said one of the most disappointing statistics from the survey was the lack of awareness about mental health cover in private health insurance.
“Mental health cover is compulsory, but more than 80% of those quizzed did not realise this. We know insurance companies place restrictions on cover to make mental health care hard to access through insurance and want to see its compulsory status dropped. This would be a disaster for patients and for the public system,” he said.
Mr Roff said the APHA was advocating strongly to retain compulsory mental health cover and making the cover easier to access and understand for consumers.