National Women's Health Policy

2. Mental health and wellbeing

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, provides lifetime and 12-month prevalence estimates of mental disorders in the Australian population aged 16 to 85 years. The assessment of mental disorders is based on the definitions and diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision. Prevalence of mental disorders is the proportion of people in a given population who meet the diagnostic criteria of a mental disorder at a point in time.

In Australia in 2007, 43 per cent of women (3.5 million) had experienced mental illness at some time in their lives. The most common diagnosis for women was an anxiety disorder, followed by affective disorder. Anxiety and depression are the leading burden of disease for women (see Table 2).

The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing indicated that, among women, 12-month anxiety disorders had the highest prevalence across all age groups, with the prevalence remaining stable at around 21 per cent between the ages of 16 and 54 years, and then declined with age. The prevalence of affective disorders among women remained similar between the ages of 16 and 54 years (at around 8 per cent) and then declined with age. The prevalence of 12-month substance use disorders for women was highest among those aged 16 to 24 years.

column graph showing the prevalence of lifetime mental disorders 2007. First columns: anxiety disorders, middle column mental disorder, third columns affective disorders


Purple - Female
Yellow - Male



The number of hospital admissions with specialised psychiatric care was substantially higher for females during 2007-08 with a principal diagnosis of recurrent depressive disorders and specific personality disorders.31

Suicide rates for women have shown only a small decrease over the past eight years across all age groups. The highest suicide rate in 2008 was in the 45 to 54 year age group.


column graph showing the age specific suicide rates (female) 2000 and 2008