A global study  from The University of Queensland and Harvard Medical School shows a high prevalence of mental health disorders, with 50 per cent of the population developing at least one disorder by the age of 75.

Researchers analysed data from more than 150,000 adults across 29 countries between 2001 and 2022, taken from the largest ever coordinated series of face-to-face interviews – the World Health Organisation’s World Mental Health Survey initiative.

Lead author Professor McGrath says the most common disorders were associated with mood, such as major depression or anxiety.”  “We also found the risk of certain mental disorders differed when we looked at gender.”

The 3 most common mental health disorders among women were:

  • Depression
  • Specific phobia (a disabling anxiety that interferes with daily life)
  • Post-traumatic stress (PTSD)

The 3 most common mental health disorders among men:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Depression
  • Specific phobia

The research also found mental health disorders typically first emerge in childhood, adolescence or young adulthood.

“The peak age of first onset was at 15 years old, with a median age of onset of 19 for men and 20 for women,” Professor McGrath said.

“This lends weight to the need to invest in basic neuroscience to understand why these disorders develop.”

Professor Kessler said investment was also needed in mental health services with a particular focus on young people.

“Services need to be able to detect and treat common mental disorders promptly and be optimised during this critical time of people’s lives,” Professor Kessler said.

“By understanding the age at which these disorders commonly arise, we can tailor public health interventions and allocate resources to ensure that appropriate and timely support is available to individuals at-risk.”

The researchers said the outcomes provide valuable insights into the frequency and timing of mental disorder onset based on many different populations.

The study has been published in The Lancet Psychiatry.