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Health conditions

Mental health

Mental illness includes many conditions with varying consequences. Its effects on individuals, families and the broader community can be severe. Social problems associated with mental illness include poverty, unemployment or reduced productivity, and homelessness (AIHW 2018).

In 2018–19:

  • 24% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (187,500 people) reported being diagnosed with a mental or behavioural condition.
  • The most common type of condition among Indigenous Australians was anxiety (17%, or 128,100 people), followed by depression (13%, or 103,000 people) and behavioural or emotional problems (9%, or 72,300 people).
  • Indigenous females were more likely to experience anxiety and depression than Indigenous males (Figure HC 7).

The prevalence of mental health problems among Indigenous Australians varied with age:

  • The proportion with anxiety increased from 7% among those aged 2–14 (16,500 people) to 25% among those aged 25–34 (29,000 people) and then fell to 18% among those aged 55 and over (17,900 people).
  • The proportion with depression was highest (23%) among those aged 45–54 (Figure HC 8).

The proportion of Indigenous Australians who reported mental and behavioural conditions varied by remoteness from 30% in Major cities (86,400 people) and Inner regional areas (55,500 people) to 7% in Very remote areas (6,300 people) (Figure HC 9).


Levels of psychological distress, based on the Kessler-5 scale of psychological distress, also provide an indication of mental health and wellbeing.

Psychological distress results for the NATSIHS 2018–19 are based on scores from the modified Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K5). The K5 is not a diagnostic tool, but is used as an indicator of levels of psychological distress experienced recently.

In 2018–19, among Indigenous Australians aged 18 and over:

  • Almost one-third (31%) reported high or very high psychological distress (149,400 people).
  • Females (35%) were more likely to report high or very high psychological distress (88,600 people) than males (26%, or 60,600 people).
  • The proportion who reported high or very high psychological distress was somewhat lower in remote areas (28%, or 26,200 people) than non-remote areas (31%, or 123,200 people) (Figure HC 10).