4 in 5 Australians think mental health is as important as physical

Four in five Australians say mental health as important as physical – but just over one quarter think our health system treats it that way: Ipsos and Kings College “Attitudes to Mental Health” Study

  • 60% think about their own mental wellbeing ‘very/fairly often’.
  • 76% think about their physical wellbeing ‘very/fairly often’.
  • 71% agree we need to adopt a more tolerant attitude toward people with mental illness in our society.

Australians’ view of mental health shows positive signs with most displaying tolerance and a desire for spending on mental health services, according to the global “ Attitudes to Mental Health“ study by Ipsos.  
Just over one quarter (27%) of Australians surveyed think the health system prioritises mental health to the same or greater extent as physical health despite four in five (79%) saying the two are equally important.
The research, by Ipsos and the Policy Institute at King’s College London, reveals attitudes towards mental health around the world.

The survey also finds that Australia is more tolerant than many countries when it comes to mental health. Seven in ten (70%) of Australians surveyed think mental illness is an illness like any other, putting us in 6th position behind Great Britain (76%), Sweden (74%), then Russia, South Korea and Turkey, all on 72%.
A similar proportion of Australians (71%) also say we need to adopt a far more tolerant attitude to people with mental illness, while 67% say seeing a mental health professional is a sign of strength, with women (73%) more likely than men (61%) to agree.

And Australia is one of the top nations for acceptance of public officials who have experienced mental health issues, with just 17% saying anyone with a history of mental illness should be excluded from public office. Again we come in 6th behind Sweden (10%), Great Britain (12%), Netherlands (14%) and Belgian on 15%, with Canada also having 17% agreeing with this sentiment. 

When it comes to attitudes to increased spending on mental health services, three quarters of Australians  (74%) disagree that increased spending on mental health services is a waste of money.
The findings are based on a survey of more than 20,000 people across 29 countries, including over 1,000 in Britain, between 23 August – 6 September 2019.

The poll builds on previous Ipsos research which found that Australians are one of few countries that see mental health as the biggest health problem facing the nation; more important than cancer or obesity. 
Other findings include:

  • Globally, a quarter (25%) of 16-34-year-olds think about their mental health very often – the most of any age group. By contrast, just one in eight (12%) over-65s think about their own mental health very often.
  • Colombians (76%), Mexicans (73%) and Brazilians (73%) are most likely to say they think about their own mental wellbeing very or fairly often, while Russians (25%), South Koreans (37%) and Saudi Arabians (42%) are least likely to.
  • People in Japan (41%), Brazil (44%) and Peru (45%) are least likely to agree that mental illness is an illness like any other.
  • People in South Korea (31%) and Japan (47%) are least likely to agree that we need to adopt a far more tolerant attitude towards people with mental illness. By contrast, those in Latin American countries – Mexico (85%), Peru (85%), Chile (85%), Colombia (84%) and Argentina (84%) – are most likely to.
  • In all countries surveyed, a majority say mental and physical health are equally important.

Professor Bobby Duffy, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said: “The British public overwhelmingly say that good mental health is just as important as good physical health – but they feel the NHS isn’t treating it that way. Nearly two-thirds think the health service prioritises physical health over mental. At a time when budgets for mental health services remain severely constrained, the NHS faces a real challenge in meeting rising demand for treatment and dealing with a shift in expectations as mental health becomes more of a mainstream concern.”

Julia Knapp from Ipsos said: “Previous Ipsos research shows that mental health hasn’t just become a mainstream health concern for Australians; it’s our number one health concern. However, while one-in-five Australians are experiencing a mental health condition in a given year, less than 8% of government health spending is on mental-health related services. It’s no surprise, then, that over half of us think our health system prioritises physical health over mental, despite a public perception that they are equally important.”