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Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Missed Opportunity In Census 2021

By now you will have participated in the 2021 Census, a fascinating tool used to build social infrastructure and tell us about our way of life to help us plan for the future.

The Census is the largest form of information gathering conducted in Australia and has reflected and promoted progress throughout its 18 five-yearly editions. 


While no census has gone by without major public scrutiny, the 2021 census has arguably missed one of the greatest opportunities in better understanding mental health in Australia. 


Statistics on mental health are more scarce and outdated than you think. The most recent nation-wide surveys include: The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted in 2007, The Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted in 2013–14 and the ABS’s (Australian Bureau of Statistics’) National Health Survey from 2017–18.

The most important time to gather statistics on mental health is right now. Perpetual lockdowns in a global pandemic, where small businesses have been held underwater gasping for help for their government. 


Many people have also been substantially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, making it more important than ever to ensure access to mental health services.

The National Health Survey of 2017–18 is the most recent national data we have regarding the mental health of Australians. This survey estimated that 1 in 5 (20%, or 4.8 million) Australians reported that they had a mental or behavioural condition.

3 years on from that survey our nation has been through a selection of natural disasters and now a world-wide pandemic. It’s safe to say this data is grossly outdated. In Census 2021 they asked you two new questions regarding military service and ‘ongoing health conditions’.


The 28th question asked people if they have been diagnosed with one of 10 long-term health conditions including arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, or any mental illnesses. No further analysis of mental health was apparent.


The National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan received $2.3 billion in the 2021-22 Budget. If the census is a symbolic representation of societal changes, it’s disappointing to see the lack of questions seeking to understand our mental health.


If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, where they provide a free, 24-hour Australia-wide crisis support and suicide prevention service.

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