Despite doing everything ‘right’ – from exercising more and drinking less – the number of young adults1 living with one or more mental health conditions has reached an all-time high, at 1.7 million2, according to new data from the Medibank Better Health Index3.
Released ahead of World Health Day (Friday 7 April 2017) – themed ‘Depression: Let’s Talk’ – the data shows the number of 18-34 year-olds suffering from depression has increased significantly, from 738,000 in 2009-10 to more than one million in the latest Index. Anxiety and panic attacks have also skyrocketed among this age group, with both conditions doubling over the last nine years4.
Medibank Chief Medical Officer, Dr Linda Swan said, “We know mental health issues are on the rise, and worryingly, our data shows a particularly steep upward trend amongst young Aussies. We don’t want to keep seeing these figures increase; if you’re suffering with a mental health condition, take a lead from this year’s World Health Day theme and chat to a loved one or professional about how you’re feeling.”
Diet and exercise: Young adults leading by example
Despite this upward trend towards mental health issues, young Aussies are more likely to keep healthy through exercise and diet than in the past. The latest Index shows the percentage of 18-34 year-olds who’ve exercised in the last three months has risen from 56% in 2007-08 to 59% today, with those exercising more than 16 times increasing from 24% to 29%. This far exceeds their older counterparts, with only 40% of those aged 50-plus having exercised at all in the last three months.
Additionally, the number of young adults regularly indulging in fast food and sugary treats has decreased, with:
- The average number of soft drinks being consumed per week shifting from 4.27 to 2.934.
- The percentage of those visiting fast food outlets in the last four weeks decreasing by 5.8%5.
“It’s clear that lifestyle factors like diet and exercise play a role in managing mental health issues. For example, our data shows that depression is more prevalent among those who do not exercise at all, compared to those who do so regularly. What’s surprising is that even though our data reveals today’s young Aussies have better diet and exercise habits than nine years ago, they’re suffering with their mental health more than ever,” said Dr Swan.
Young Aussies putting down the drink
The Index also shows the percentage of young Aussies consuming alcohol6 has dropped significantly over the last nine years, going from 61% in 2007-08 to just 52% today – lower than their parents’ generation7, of which, 61% are still consuming alcohol each week. Additionally, the average number of drinks consumed by young Aussies per week has reduced, from 7.26 in 2007-08 to just 5.15 in the latest Index. In line with the national trend, young Australians are also far less likely to smoke today than nine years ago, with just 13% yet to kick the habit, compared with 22% in 2007-08.
“We know alcohol can exacerbate mental health conditions, so it’s great to see today’s young Aussies are leading by example, drinking less than the same cohort nine years ago and the least of any other age group. Seeing that key lifestyle factors are improving – such as diet, exercise, and alcohol and tobacco intake – it begs questions around what is causing this significant upswing in mental health issues, particularly anxiety and panic attacks.”
Are shifting lifestyles to blame?
Along with reliance on the internet doubling over the last nine years8, the latest Index shows young adults are continuing to break tradition and choose more flexible lifestyles, with the number of those undertaking part-time work and study on the rise. 37% of 18-34 year-olds are now studying, compared with just 32% in 2007-08, and the number of young adults employed part-time has increased from 24% to 28% over the same period. Additionally, the data shows young people are continuing to opt for more fast-paced lifestyles, with the percentage of those now living in capital cities increasing from 66% to 71%4.
“Today’s young adults are among the first to grow up with technology playing the ever-present role it now does – giving way to new and flexible ways of working, as seen in the rise of the freelancer economy. While this brings with it countless new opportunities, it also means today’s young people are required to be far more adaptable and accept a less regimented way of living. We know that a lack of routine can heighten stress and symptoms of mental health issues, and this could be playing a role in the trends indicated in this Index.
“While more research needs to be done into the impact changing lifestyles could be having on our mental wellbeing, it’s worth considering the potential connection as well as the role of increased awareness on the number of diagnoses we’re seeing. Disconnecting for a while and practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation could help, however if you’re battling with your mental health, remember that your GP is always there for you.”
If you think you are living with a mental health condition, speak to your GP or contact beyondblue.
Read more about mental health.
1 Australians aged 18-34 years
2 1,729,000 Australians aged 18-34 years affected by depression, anxiety and/or panic attacks, 12 months to September2016
3 Roy Morgan Research: 12 months to September 2008 and 12 months to September 2016
4 Comparing data 12 months to September 2008 and 12 months to September 2016
5 Australians aged 18-34 visited or purchased from a fast food restaurant 12 months to 2007-08 (67.1%) compared to 12 months to 2015-16 (61.3%)
6 In the last 7 days
7 61.4% of Australians aged 50+ drunk alcohol in the last 7 days, 12 months to September 2016
8 Time spent using the internet in the last 7 days: 812 minutes in 12 months to September 2008 and 1,664 minutes in 12 months to September 2016