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Medicare-subsidised mental health‑specific services are provided by psychiatrists, general practitioners (GPs), psychologists and other allied health professionals. The services described here are provided in a range of settings—for example, hospitals, consulting rooms, home visits, telephone and videoconferencing—as defined in the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). Information is presented on both patient and service provider characteristics and is limited to Medicare-subsidised services only. These data relate only to mental health services that are claimed under specific mental health care MBS item numbers. Therefore, the reported number of patients who receive mental health-related services is unlikely to represent all patients who receive mental health care. It is unclear how many additional people receive GP mental health-related care that is billed as a consultation against generic GP MBS item numbers. For further information on the MBS data, refer to the data source section on this website.
During 2020–21, the Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific service rate was 545 services per 1,000 population in Australia. Of these, the highest rate was provided by general practitioners (158 services per 1,000 population), and the lowest rate by other allied health providers (23).
Additional mental health-specific items are included in the MBS periodically. There were a number of new items introduced during the 2020–21 collection period including:
The top half of the dashboard is a line chart showing the number of Medicare-subsidised mental health services, the number of services per patient, and the service rate (per 1,000 population) by provider type from 2010–11 to 2020–21. The bottom half of the dashboard is a map of Australia showing the year on year change of the number of services per 1,000 population by provider type and state or territory, from 2016–17 to 2020–21. The figure shows a higher increase from 2019–20 to 2020–21 compared to previous years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government introduced additional services to the Medicare Benefits Schedule to support provision of health care via telehealth. The second page of the dashboard is a vertical stacked bar chart showing the proportion of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services delivered via telehealth and face-to-face in 2020–21. Over 1 in 4 services (3.6 million, 25.7%) were provided via telehealth (phone or video) in 2020–21.
In 2020–21, 2.9 million Australians (11.2% of the population) received Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services. Both Victoria and Queensland had the highest proportions of the population receiving services (11.7%), followed by New South Wales (10.9%). The Northern Territory had the lowest proportion of the population receiving services (5.9%) (Figure MBS.1).
Vertical bar chart showing the proportion of each state and territories population who received Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services, by state or territory in 2020–21. Victoria (12%) and Queensland (12%) had a higher proportion of the population accessing services than the national proportion (11%). New South Wales, Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia had about 11% of their populations receiving services, followed by the Australian Capital Territory (10%) and the Northern Territory (6%). Refer to Table MBS.4.
Source data: Medicare-subsidised mental health‑specific services tables 2020–21
People aged 18–24 years were most likely to receive Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services (17.7% of people aged 18–24 years), followed by 25–34 years (15.7%) and 35–44 years (14.4%) (Figure MBS.2). A higher proportion of the female population (13.7%) accessed services compared with males (8.6%). The proportion of the Australian population receiving services varied according to the remoteness area of patient’s residence. The proportion of people receiving services was highest for those living in Major cities and Inner regional areas (11.5%), with the proportion of the population receiving services decreasing with increasing remoteness to 3.3% of people living in Very remote areas.
Horizontal bar chart showing the percentage of specific demographic populations who received Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services during 2020–21, by key demographics. In 2020–21, patients aged 0–4 years were the lowest users of services (0.9% of people aged 0–4 years). Usage increased with age to 6.6% for people aged 5–11 and to 14.3% for 12–17 years. Patients aged 18–24 years were the highest users of services (17.7%), followed by 25–34 years (15.7%) and 35–44 (14.4%); and then gradually decreasing for older age groups 45–54 years (12.6%), 55–64 years (9.9%), 65–74 years (6.7%), 75–84 years (5.0%) and 85 years and over (3.3%). By sex, a greater proportion of the female population (13.7%) accessed services compared with males (8.6%). For remoteness area, the same proportion of people living in Major cities and Inner regional areas (11.5%) accessed services, and the percentage of the population accessing services decreased as remoteness increased: Outer regional (9.0%), Remote (6.2%) and Very remote (3.3%). Refer to Table MBS.2.
In 2020–21, 9.3% of the Australian population received Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services from a general practitioner; 1.8% received services from a psychiatrist; 2.2% received Psychological Therapy Services from a clinical psychologist; 3.0% received psychology services other than Psychological Therapy Services, from a psychologist (clinical psychologist or other psychologist); and 0.5% received services from other allied health professionals, noting that an individual may receive services from more than one provider type. The General Practitioners section provides further information about mental health-related GP care.
The number of people receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services increased from 1.5 million (6.9% of Australians) in 2010–11 to 2.9 million (11.2% of Australians) in 2020–21. Increases were seen for all provider types, with the greatest percentage point increase occurring for general practitioners (from 5.4% to 9.3%). The proportion of Australians accessing clinical psychologist MBS services increased from 1.1% in 20210–11 to 2.2% in 2020–21, exceeding psychiatrist MBS services (Figure MBS.3).
Line chart showing the percentage of Australians receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health services by provider from 2010–11 to 2020–21. The percentage of Australians receiving services from psychiatrists increased from 1.3% in 2010–11 to 1.8% in 2020–21, GPs increased from 5.4% to 9.3%, clinical psychologists 1.1% to 2.2%, other psychologists 1.9% to 3.0%, and other allied health providers 0.2% to 0.5%. The percentage of Australians receiving services from all providers increased from 6.9% in 2010–11 to 11.2% in 2020–21. Refer to Table MBS.4.
Other allied health providers include mental health professionals such as occupational therapists, social workers, Aboriginal health workers, as well as mental health nurses. From 2013–14 to 2020–21, the number of people receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services from other allied health providers has increased at a higher rate than other types of providers.
The average annual change of people accessing services from 2013–14 to 2020–21 was 10.3% for other allied health providers and ranged between 4.5% and 6.7% for other types of providers. Similarly, among all service providers, the average annual change of provided Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services was highest for other allied health providers from 2013–14 to 2020–21 (11.5%, compared to a range of 2.8% to 8.6% for other providers). This large increase of service may be partially driven by the increase of other allied health providers supplying service (10.0% average annual increase from 2013–14 to 2020–21).
General practitioners (GPs) are often the first point of contact for people seeking mental health care services. GPs provide a variety of services to people with a mental illness and may refer patients on to specialised services.
There were 2 data sources up until 2016 that provided complimentary insights into mental health-related GP care: the Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) survey of general practice activity and the mental health-specific Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items which are reported in this section. The BEACH survey estimated that around 12.4% of all GP encounters (including encounters that were not billed using MBS item numbers) were mental health-related in 2015–16. The most common management for mental health-related problems was for the GP to prescribe, supply or recommend medication (61.6 per 100 mental health-related problems managed). Depression was the most commonly managed mental health-related problem during the GP encounters (about 32.1%).
There were 14.0 million Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services provided to 2.9 million Australians in 2020–21. Victoria (629.3 services per 1,000 population) had the highest rate of services, and the Northern Territory (185.5) had the lowest, which was considerably lower than the national rate (544.9) (Figure MBS.4).
Vertical bar chart showing the Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific service rate (per 1,000 population), by states and territories in 2020–21. Victoria (629.3) and Queensland (558.2) had the highest rate of services per 1,000 population, greater than the national rate (544.9). In the other states and territories, New South Wales had 518.0 services per 1,000 population, followed by Western Australia (491.0), Tasmania (489.1), the Australian Capital Territory (479.1), South Australia (477.4), and the Northern Territory had the lowest rate of 185.5. Refer to Table MBS.12.
In 2020–21, Australians aged 18–24 years had the highest rate of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific service use (87.9 services per 100 people aged 18–24 years), and people aged 0–4 years had the lowest usage rate (2.1 services per 100 people aged 0–4 years). Females had a higher rate of service usage than males (70.5 and 38.1 services per 100 females and males, respectively). People living in Major cities had the highest rate of service use (58.8 services per 100 people living in Major cities), with rates decreasing with increasing remoteness to 10.6 for Very remote (Figure MBS.5).
Horizontal bar chart showing the rates of Medicare-subsidised mental health services per 100 population by demographics in 2020–21. Service use in 2020–21 was lowest among patients aged 0–4 years (2.1 services per 100 population), and increased with age to 25.8 for 5–11 years, to 69.9 for 12–17 years and was highest for those aged 18–24 years (87.9), and gradually decreased for older age groups: 25–34 years (78.1), 35–44 years (71.6); 45–54 years (62.9), 55–64 years (50.6), 65–74 years (31.8), 75–84 years (20.7), and 85 years over (11.5). By sex, females accessed a greater number of services per 100 population than males (70.5 compared with 38.1 respectively). For remoteness area, the highest service rate was seen in Major cities (58.8 per 100 population) with service rates decreasing as remoteness increased: Inner regional (49.8), Outer regional (34.2), Remote (21.2) and Very remote (10.6). Refer to Table MBS.10.
In 2020–21, patients in Victoria had the highest average number of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services per patient (5.4), compared to the national average of 4.9 services per patient. The Northern Territory had the lowest number of services per patient at 3.1. The average number of services per patient for all other states and territories ranged between 4.8 and 4.5 services per patient. For the age groups analysed, people aged 55–64 had the highest average number of services per patient (5.1) and patients aged 0–4 years had the lowest (2.4). Females had more services per patient than males (5.1 and 4.4, respectively).
The total number of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services increased from 7.7 million in 2010–11 to 14.0 million in 2020–21; increasing from 349.5 services per 1,000 population to 544.9 in 2020–21 (Figure MBS.6). The increase in the rate of services was mainly due to increases in services provided by GPs (increase of 1.9 million from 2010–11 to 2020–21), followed by Psychological Therapy Services provided by clinical psychologists (1.8 million), and other psychological services provided by clinical psychologists and other psychologists (1.5 million). From 2010–11 to 2020–21 there was a relatively small increase in the rate of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services delivered by psychiatrists (0.7 million). In 2020–21 new Better Access items were added, including additional mental health-related items in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (next section) (DoH 2020). These new items are included in the data.
Vertical bar chart showing the rate of Medicare-subsidised mental health services per 1,000 population by provider type from 2010–11 to 2020–21. The number of services per 1,000 population provided by psychiatrists increased from 90.6 in 2010–11 to 104.9 in 2020–21, GPs increased from 96.1 to 158.2 per 1,000 population, clinical psychologists 57.3 to 119.0, other psychologists 95.0 to 139.8 and other allied health professionals 10.4 to 23.0. Refer to Table MBS.12.
During the course of the pandemic the Australian Government introduced a wide range of additions to the MBS to support the provision of care via telehealth, to help reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 and provide protection for both patients and health care providers. These items include mental health services provided by GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists and other allied health workers.
Over 1 in 4 services (3.6 million, 25.7%) were provided via telehealth (phone or video) in 2020–21. Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists provided a higher proportion of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services via telehealth than other types of providers (31.0% and 29.8% respectively), and GPs provided the lowest proportion of mental health MBS services via telehealth (19.2%). More detail about the use of telehealth services during the pandemic, can be found in the Mental health impact of COVID-19 section.
Analyses of the Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services by quarter have been included to show seasonal variations in service use and provide more insight into the impact of events such as the pandemic. These include service and person counts reported by provider type, age group and sex.
From 2012–13 to 2018–19 the number of people receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services and the number of services being delivered was consistently highest in the April–June period and lowest in the October–December period. Note that reduced service usage is typical during public holidays and particularly over the Christmas/New Year period.
In 2019–20, an unseasonably low number of people used services in April–June (1.2 million), likely due to movement restrictions during lockdown periods. However, a relatively high number of services were still used (3.2 million), meaning more services were used per person in April–June (2.7) than in other quarters (2.4). In 2020–21, the number of people who used services was again highest in the April-June period (1.4 million), and lowest in the October-December period (1.3 million), consistent with years before 2019–20.
Providers show different patterns of activity over the year. Psychiatrists provide services to a relatively stable number of patients, while GPs and psychologists showed more seasonal variations. The number of patients accessing psychologist provided services typically peak in the April–June period; this pattern was observed in 2020–21 but not in 2019–20. For GP providers, the number of patients accessing mental health services typically peak in the January–March period; however, in 2020–21 the peak was observed in the July–September period.
The MBS data presented relate to services provided on a fee-for-service basis for which MBS benefits were paid. The year and month is determined from the date the service was processed by Medicare, rather than the date the service was provided. Patient counts for demographic characteristics (e.g. sex, age) are derived from the last service processed in the reference period.
Services Australia collects data on the activity of all persons making claims through the Medicare Benefits Scheme and provides this information to the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care (DHAC) (Services Australia 2020). Information collected includes the type of service provided (MBS item number) and the benefit paid by Medicare for the service. The item numbers and benefits paid by Medicare are based on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (DOH 2022). Services that are not included in the MBS are not included in the data. The table below lists all MBS items that have been defined as mental health-specific.
14224, 340(a), 886(a)
2710(a), 2715, 2717
(a) Item discontinued
(b) Item introduced in September 2021.
(c) Item numbers have differing implementation and discontinuation dates. Details are available in the Medicare Benefits Schedule books.
Restructuring of Group A8 items occurred as of 1 November 1996. Item numbers 134, 136, 138, 140, 142, 144, 146, 148, 150, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 158 and 159 were discontinued as of 31 Oct 1996. Historical psychiatrist data includes services claimed against these item numbers.
Item numbers for claims by people whose mental health was affected by a bushfire during 2019–20 and 2020–21 include services provided by:
The BEACH survey was conducted by the Family Medicine Research Centre at the University of Sydney from 1998 to 2016 and supported financially by government and private industry.
BEACH was the only continuous, randomised study of GP activity in the world and the only national program that provided direct linkage of all management actions to the problem. It provided information about GP encounters based on data collected from a sample of GPs. Data linkages between indication and patient management are unique to BEACH, where it was considered an important source for research into GP management of mental health services.
The number of estimated GP encounters deemed to be mental health related from the BEACH survey were greater than the number of Medicare-subsidised mental health specific services as not all mental health-related GP encounters were billed using mental health-specific MBS item numbers. The BEACH survey found the proportion of estimated GP mental health-related activity billed as Medicare-subsidised mental health specific GP services increased from around 10.6% in 2007–08 to around 18.1% in 2015–16. However, the cessation of the BEACH survey in 2016 prevents ongoing comparison between the BEACH survey data and the MBS data (Britt et al. 2016).
The AIHW is pursuing the identification of more recent alternative data sources to accurately present information on mental health care provided by GPs.
Additional information on the BEACH survey can be obtained from General practice activity in Australia 2015–16 (8.7MB PDF).
Details on the data that were collected in the final 18th year of BEACH survey can be found in the archived content section.
Medicare-subsidised psychologist services are services provided by psychologists that are rebateable by Medicare through psychological therapy services, focussed psychological strategies and enhanced primary care items. The data source section lists these item groups with the relevant MBS item numbers. For these items to be eligible for Medicare rebates, the provider must meet the following eligibility requirements and be registered with Medicare Australia.
Medicare rebates for psychological therapy services are only available for services provided by clinical psychologists who are fully registered in the relevant jurisdiction and are members of, or eligible for membership with, the Australian Psychological Society’s College of Clinical Psychologists. Clinical membership is only available for registered psychologists who have completed the standard 4 years of study in psychology and attained an accredited doctorate degree in clinical psychology or master’s degree in clinical psychology with 1 year of supervised post-masters clinical psychology experience.
Medicare rebates for focussed psychological strategies and enhanced primary care are available for services provided by psychologists who are fully registered in the relevant jurisdiction regardless of any specialist clinical training. Registered psychologists must complete the standard 4 years of study in psychology with an additional 2 years of supervised practice, postgraduate coursework or a research degree, and meet any other jurisdiction-specific requirement for registration (DOH 2019: 77–78, 1219–1222, 1288–1291).
Clinical psychologist includes psychological therapy services provided only by clinical psychologists. Psychologist (other) includes services provided by both clinical psychologists and other psychologists (DOH 2019: 77–78, 1286–1287, 1225–1231, 1239–1244, 1291–1294, 1305–1308, 1337).
Britt H, Miller GC, Henderson J, Bayram C, Harrison C, Valenti L, Wong C, Gordon J, Pollack AJ, Pan Y and Charles J (2016) General practice activity in Australia 2015–16. General practice series no. 40, Sydney: Sydney University Press.
DoH (Department of Health) (2019) Medicare Benefits Schedule Book, effective 14 September 2019, Department of Health and Aged Care website, accessed 16 May 2022.
DoH (2020) Additional 10 MBS mental health sessions during COVID-19 under the Better Access Pandemic Support measure, Department of Health and Aged Care website, accessed 16 May 2022.
DoH (2022) Medicare Benefits Schedule Book, effective 16 May 2022, Department of Health and Aged Care website, accessed 16 May 2022.
Services Australia (2020) Information for allied health professionals. Better Access Initiative – supporting mental health care, Services Australia website, accessed 16 May 2022.
Data presented covers the time period 1984–85 to 2020–21. This section was last updated in August 2022.
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