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Improving the mental health of the population: where to next?

The need for a national strategy on preventing mental disorders

During the 1990s, two national surveys were carried out in Australia that were very influential in guiding thinking about population mental health. The first was the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, which showed that mental disorders were common, disabling and undertreated.1 The second was the National Survey of Mental Health Literacy, which showed that many members of the public had negative views of the standard psychiatric treatments that were endorsed as effective by clinical practice guidelines and mental health clinicians.2,3

This “treatment gap” suggested a clear path to improving population mental health: we needed to get more people with mental disorders to seek help and receive evidence-based treatments.4 In Australia, efforts to achieve these aims were successful. There is now a greater willingness to be open about mental disorders and to seek help,5 and the Australian public’s beliefs about treatment of mental disorders have become much closer to those of professionals.6 Further, we have seen considerable increases in use of pharmacological and psychological treatments.7