Mental illness and suicide costing Australia almost $500 million each day

31 October 2019

The cost of mental illness and suicide in Australia is close to $180 billion per year according to a Productivity Commission report, and treatment and services are not meeting community expectations.

The University of Queensland’s School of Public Health Professor Harvey Whiteford, who was appointed associate Commissioner at the Productivity Commission for this inquiry, said prevention and early intervention are paramount to better outcomes and reducing the burden caused by mental illness.

The draft mental health report shows 75 per cent of people with mental illness experience symptoms by the time they reach 25 years old, and the impact from their experience with mental illness at school and work has long lasting effects on various aspects of their life. 

The report also shows mental illness, including anxiety and depression, will be experienced by one in two Australians, however up to a million people do not seek help.

Indigenous populations and those with socio-economic disadvantage experience the highest rates of mental disorders.

Professor Whiteford said although there has been no change in the prevalence of mental disorders at a population level, more people are now speaking out due to a reduction in stigma associated with mental illness.

“The fact there is a Victorian Royal Commission into mental health currently going on, the burden of mental illness is now identified as the leading cause of disability in most countries and media coverage has increased, have all contributed to governments having to provide more and better services,” Professor Whiteford said.

“We need to better meet the needs of the people who are now coming forward and expecting treatment equivalent to what they would get with a physical illness.”

The report calls for change in our health system, schools, workplaces, housing and the justice system, and lists several reforms to close gaps in our mental health system and better target services to needs.

They include better support for students and teachers, including wellbeing leaders in all schools, more community-based services, better use of technology, an increase in health professionals and more help for police and paramedics when dealing with mental health crisis situations.

“Even though there have been suggestions that Australia is now a more stressed society, that our young people are more stressed, and workplaces are putting more pressure on people, there is no clear evidence to show this has led to more people with mental illness,” Professor Whiteford said.

“That said, the last Australian population survey of mental illness was conducted in 2007. The Australian Bureau of Statistics will conduct a new survey next year by and that will tell us if there has been a change in the prevalence of mental illness across the country.”

The Productivity Commission’s draft Mental Report can be viewed at

Media: Faculty of Medicine Communications,, +61 7 3365 5118, +61 436 368 746.