Mental Health Australia
WATCH: Numbers that matter information session recording

Below is a snapshot of the Mental health section from the Census 2021: Numbers that matter report – you can read more about the report and its authors below this story, as well as explore the other core themes covered by the report.

Every five years there’s great excitement about what the latest Australian Census will say about our nation. It is a snapshot in time that provides important data points; but insights can only be drawn when that data is mixed with the experiences of people closely in touch with our communities. Rob Goudswaard from Orygen provides that invaluable community voice in the story below.

Read more about the lived experiences and voices of community in the full Census 2021: Numbers that matter report.  Delivered by Perpetual Philanthropy and Not-for-profit in conjunction with Seer Data & Analytics.

Mental health

More than 1 in 10 Australians between the age of 15 and 54 reported suffering a long term mental health condition (including depression or anxiety).

More than 1 in 5 females between the age of 15 and 44 report suffering from one or more long-term health conditions.

All states of Australia exhibit higher rates of long-term mental health conditions among females aged 85+ years compared with females aged 75-84 years.

Regional Analysis of Mental Health Findings

There are significant differences in the prevalence of long-term mental health conditions between states and regions, according to the 2021 Census:

  • New South Wales and Victoria exhibit higher rates of long-term mental health conditions in the regions.
  • Tasmania has among the highest rates of long-term mental health conditions in Australia in both metro and regional areas.
  • All areas exhibit higher rates of long-term mental health conditions among females, particularly aged 15-54 years.

Mental health by region

Long-term health conditions by age

A breakdown of all health conditions (including mental health in purple) by age at the 2021 Census is as follows:

Long Term Health Conditions by age

Additional analysis on mental health factors

Subsequent to publication of the Census 2021: Numbers that matter report, further analysis has been undertaken by Seer Data & Analytics Co-founder & Chief Data Scientist Adam Peaston.  His analysis on national rates of longer term mental health conditions by age, sex, indigenous status, and core activity need for assistance status drew the following observations and conclusions:

  • Average household size and average number of persons per bedroom both appear negatively correlated with excess long-term mental health conditions.
  • Confounding factors notwithstanding, this suggests a hypothesis that the potential for long-term mental health conditions reduces with proximity to others, specifically within a household.
  • Other population wealth indicators also appear negatively correlated with excess long-term mental health conditions, particularly household income, suggesting the hypothesis that the potential for long-term mental health conditions reduces with increased financial security.
  • Negative correlation between weekly rent and monthly mortgage repayment are intuitively expected to be an artefact of income measures; that is, higher rent or mortgage is correlated with higher income.
  • Little indication that median age of persons is correlated with excess long-term mental health conditions.

If you’re interested in a presentation or report on Seer’s deeper findings on mental health please get in touch here.

Community voice: Too much to lose

by Rob Goudswaard, Orygen

“Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose, But young men think it is, and we were young.”
A. E. Housman

Read World War One poems and what you hear is a stark cry about what we lose when we lose the young – their lost gifts, their lost contribution and creations.

At Orygen, that’s what we feel when we consider the toll mental illness takes upon our young. The ABS national survey of Mental Health & Wellbeing released in July 2022 says nearly 40% of people aged 16 to 25 had a mental illness in the previous 12 months. This alarming figure echoes the numbers we’ve seen in the Census.

Untreated, or left too late, mental illness can last years – or decades – and lead to physical illness too. People with mental illness are 30% less likely to finish high school, so much more likely to be unemployed and on welfare.

A flood tide of tied funding

How are we as a society dealing with this crisis? We’ve seen important increases in Government funding for treatment. At Orygen we’ve put some of that money to work in our communities where we combine leading-edge research with a clinical service that helps over 6,000 people aged 12-25 each year.

Our sector has also seen an increase in donations from individuals and corporates funding specific youth mental health research or services. This is good news. But it’s not good enough.

What we need to start winning the war against youth mental illness is less tied funding and more flexible funding so we can target it intelligently where it will have the most impact. Right now, Government funding typically covers only 60% of our research cost. So we’re searching for the other 40% – or scaling back research in a way that slows our path to important answers.

Our own experience shows the power of untied funding. Our Chief of Research, Eóin Killackey, did early career research funded by a repeating donation from Australian Rotary Health. With it, he helped design a program focusing on returning mentally ill youth to school and work. His research led to the Headspace Individual Placement and Support program now used by thousands of people every year.

A life on welfare costs the taxpayer about $500,000* per person (and that’s before we count lost production and tax income). So the economic value created by the right research is staggering. And that’s before you consider what society gains from young Australians who get to reach their potential.

What we need, from government and philanthropists, are funds we can use to help our youth. And trust that we can find a better way to do it.


With thanks to our community voice for this story:

Rob Goudswaard is on the board of Orygen and the Chair of Orygen Foundation. The Orygen Specialist Program provides specialist mental health services for people aged 15 to 25 in west and north-western Melbourne. It runs the Orygen Research Centre and delivers acute care, ongoing care and support for health professionals.

* Source:

Census 2021: Numbers that matter – Learn more

About the report and its authors

Census 2021: Numbers that matter, a strategic compendium for Australia’s for-purpose leaders, boards and philanthropists, which asks and answers the big questions about how to make our society better for all.  The above story is a snapshot of the introduction only, with an additional seven core themes curated in the report, where experts from Perpetual and other social sector organisations reflect on some of the big issues facing our communities, by exploring a series of data insights drawn largely (but not completely) from the 2021 Census.

About Perpetual

Perpetual’s Philanthropy and Not-for-Profit team is one of Australia’s largest advisory teams working with philanthropic individuals, families and for-purpose organisations, helping them have an impact with their giving, investments and communities. For not-for-profits they provide governance, investment management and spending policy advice. They work with philanthropists to develop their giving strategies, set up the most appropriate giving approach for their circumstances and help them assess, choose and support the organisations and causes that matter to them. They work to bring these two groups together and to support them with thought leadership and analysis that helps them achieve more for their communities.

Report Authors

Caitriona Fay, Managing Partner, Community and Social Investment, Perpetual Private
Jane Magor, National Manager, Philanthropy & Non Profit Services, Perpetual Private

Get in touch with the Perpetual and Seer Data & Analytics team with any feedback or questions:

The next steps

EXPLORE the Census 2021 data assets, including insights, an interactive dashboard, and new insight builder tool coming soon.

READ the full report including on the ground insights behind the numbers contributed by community sector leaders.

WATCH Census 2021: Numbers that matter information session recording, where report authors expand on the topics in the report.