Objective: To assemble what is known about the mental health of Indigenous Australians from community surveys.
Data sources: A systematic search was carried out of publications and data sources since 2000 using PubMed, PsycINFO, Australian Medical Index, the National Library of Australia and datasets known to the authors.
Study selection: Surveys had to involve representative sampling of a population, identify Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and include a measure of mental health.
Data extraction: 11 surveys were found. Data were extracted on prevalence rates for Indigenous people by age and sex, along with comparison data from the general population, where available.
Data synthesis: Across seven studies, Indigenous adults were consistently found to have a higher prevalence of self-reported psychological distress than the general community. However, two studies of Indigenous adolescents did not find a higher prevalence of psychological distress. Two surveys of parents and carers of Indigenous children and adolescents found a higher prevalence of behaviour problems.
Conclusions: There is an inequality in mental health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians that starts from an early age. This needs to be a priority for research, preventive action and health services.