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Mental health and disabilities in New Zealand

Here are some facts and figures about mental health and disabilities in New Zealand.

Te Rau Hinengaro: The New Zealand Mental Health Survey (Oakley Browne et al., 2006) examined the prevalence of common mental disorders and substance abuse among adults in the general population.

Prevalence of mental disorders each year

  • Each year about one in five, or 21 per cent, of adults in the general population experience any mental illness or addiction (15 per cent anxiety disorders, eight per cent mood disorders and four per cent substance use).
  • About five per cent of adults in the general population experience serious mental disorders each year.
  • Most disorders have an early age of onset with half experienced by 18 years and three-quarters by age 34.
  • The risk of any mental disorder is higher among females (24 per cent) compared with males (17 per cent).
  • The risk of any mental disorder is higher among Maori (30 per cent) and Pacific peoples (24 per cent) compared with non-Maori or Pacific peoples (19 per cent).
  • The higher prevalence of disorder among Maori and Pacific peoples is explained in part by their younger age profile, sex, and lower socioeconomic status.
  • There is a high level of comorbidity among mental disorders with nearly half of adults with a mood disorder also experiencing an anxiety disorder.
  • The experience of substance use disorders and mental illness is also common with about 40 per cent of adults with a substance use disorder also experiencing an anxiety disorder and about one-third a mood disorder.

Health care use

  • Each year about 13 per cent of adults in the general population make a mental health visit to the health care sector.
  • Health care visits among adults with experience of any mental disorder in the past 12 months were lower among Maori (33 per cent) and Pacific peoples (25 per cent) compared with non-Maori or Pacific peoples (41 per cent).

Disability

  • The level of disability associated with mental illness and physical conditions is similar.
  • The level of disability associated with any mental health and physical condition is twice as high.

Suicidal behaviours

  • Each year about three per cent of adults in the general population think about suicide, one per cent have planned it and 0.4 per cent have attempted suicide.
  • Suicidal ideation is higher among females (3.7 per cent; males 2.6 per cent).

Deaths from suicide reported by the Ministry of Health (2009) indicate males are three times more likely to commit suicide compared with females. Male suicide peaks between the ages of 30 and 39 and rises again from age 70 on.

Results from the Youth 2007 survey of adolescents aged 13 to 17+ also indicated suicidal behaviours are higher among younger people.

  • Overall 14 per cent had thought about suicide, nine per cent had planned it and nearly five per cent had made an attempt within the past 12 months.
  • The risk of suicidal thought, plans and attempts was higher among female adolescents compared with males.

Mental health and addiction workforce

A Ministry of Health stocktake of the mental health and addiction workforce in 2008 indicated there were between:

  • 12,136 and 12,432 people working in the mental health and addiction sector
  • 6519 and 6705 full-time equivalent staff at the district health board level in the mental health and addiction sector.

Health Workforce Information Programme (HWIP) reports provide information on staff working in DHBs. March 2011 figures indicate:

  • the total number of DHB employees was 62,983 of which 49,829 were female
  • the average workforce age was 44.5 years
  • nurses are the largest single occupation group with 23,979
  • about three-quarters of the workforce identified as New Zealand European, 13 per cent Asian and eight per cent Maori.

Long-term physical, sensory or intellectual disability

The prevalence of long-term disabilities in the general population was examined in the 2006 Disability Survey. Findings indicate:

  • 17 per cent or 660,300 people in the general population have a disability, 20 per cent of the population aged under 65 and 45 per cent aged 65 and over
  • of the people aged under 65 with a disability, 60 per cent are New Zealand Europeans, 19 per cent Maori, five per cent Pacific, three per cent Asian and 13 per cent Other.

The primary impairments of disabled people funded through NASCs aged under 65 years of age (Ministry of Health & University of Auckland, 2004) include:

  • 39 per cent intellectual disability and 30 per cent physical disability.

The disability support workforce is largely comprised of disability support workers who make up about 85 per cent of the workforce. Estimates of the number of disability support workers range from 19,000 to 22,000 (Ministry of Health). The disability support workforce is predominantly female, employed part-time and about 28 per cent are aged 51 or older  (Ministry of Health & University of Auckland, 2004).

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