This is an overview of the first burden of disease and injury studies carried out in Australia. Methods developed for the World Bank and World Health Organization Global Burden of Disease Study were adapted and applied to Australian population health data. Depression was found to be the top-ranking cause of non-fatal disease burden in Australia, causing 8% of the total years lost due to disability in 1996. Mental disorders overall were responsible for nearly 30% of the non-fatal disease burden. The leading causes of total disease burden (disability-adjusted life years [DALYs]) were ischaemic heart disease and stroke, together causing nearly 18% of the total disease burden. Depression was the fourth leading cause of disease burden, accounting for 3.7% of the total burden. Of the 10 major risk factors to which the disease burden can be attributed, tobacco smoking causes an estimated 10% of the total disease burden in Australia, followed by physical inactivity (7%).