Mental health is the most widely-reported long-term health condition in people aged 15 to 54 in the Hawkesbury, and floods and fires could be contributing to the figure, according to mental health experts.
Recent census data shows mental health - including depression or anxiety - was the top-reported long-term health condition in the Hawkesbury local government area in age groups 15-24 years, 25-34 years, 35-44 years and 45-54 years.
The most common long-term health condition reported in persons aged 0-14 years was asthma. Older Hawkesburians in age groups 55-64 years, 65-74 years, 75-84 years, and 85 years and over, reported arthritis as the most common long-term condition.
Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District's (NBMLHD) Mental Health Medical Director, Kristof Mikes-Liu, said various factors could place mental health at the top of the list for people aged 15 to 54, including that "by and large that is a healthy period of life for most people".
"Life [in these age groups] can be stressful. There does appear to be a number of transitions, from being a child to adult, being at home to not at home, working, and dealing with the stresses of life," Mr Mikes-Liu said.
He applauded the number of people who were open about reporting their mental health conditions in the latest census and said he took "some comfort" in their readiness to report that they had a long-term mental health condition.
"Potentially this means the stigma and other factors that mean we keep it to ourselves are less," he said.
Hawkesbury has been a hot-spot for natural disasters over the past five years, with the severe bushfire season of 2019-20, followed by multiple floods, and Mr Mikes-Liu said this could contribute to reported mental health cases.
"I think in some ways, over the last few years - especially in the Hawkesbury - across the country with natural disasters, and then COVID, with having to adapt to a lot of changes quickly, could kind of explain the predominance of mental health conditions in this group," he said.
NBMLHD's Director of Mental Health, Matt Russell, agreed the natural disasters in Hawkesbury had been stress-inducing.
"It has been a really tough few years living in that area - there has been a natural increase [in reported mental health cases] ... Those disasters increase financial stress for families and individuals, having a correlation for people reporting higher mental health distress as well," Mr Russell said.
October is National Mental Health Month 2022 and Mr Russell said it was a timely reminder of "the importance of checking in with each other" and asking others, 'are you OK?'
"A lot of the support to help people have really good mental health is about having connections with community, engagement with family networks. There are a lot of simple things people can do to maintain good mental health," he said.
These included diet, physical activity, being outside, walking, speaking with family and friends and community, sleeping well, and limiting alcohol intake.
"If you're worried about how you are and how others are going, reach our early and get some help," Mr Russell said.