Diversity in mental health care services highlighted in new report

Australians with mental health problems receive care from a range of health care services, including general practice surgeries, community-based mental health facilities, hospitals and private psychiatrists, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Mental Health Services in Australia 2002-03 shows that, in terms of patient encounters, general practitioners continue to be the main providers for people dealing with mental health problems, with over 10 million GP consultations a year for mental health related conditions-with depression accounting for about one-third of mental health problems being managed.

The next most frequently managed condition in GP surgeries was anxiety-related and physical disturbances (mainly sleep disturbance).

There were almost 4.7 million service contacts between patients and community-based mental health services and hospital outpatient clinics reported in 2002-03. The most common condition treated in these facilities was schizophrenia, followed by depression.

There were around 2 million visits to private psychiatrists. The number of psychiatrist attendances has been falling slightly each year for the last five years.

Report co-author Gail Weaving said information on conditions treated by psychiatrists is not available, but it was worth noting that, as with general practitioners, psychiatrists prescribed antidepressants more frequently than any other type of mental health related medication.

'Antidepressants comprised 54.6% of medications prescribed by psychiatrists, and 59.9% of mental health related medications prescribed by GPs,' Ms Weaving said.

'In total, about 20 million mental health related medications were prescribed by psychiatrists and GPs combined.'

The report shows that there were over 192,000 mental health related hospital admissions in 2002-03.

Although the total number of hospital admissions remained fairly stable between 1998-99 and 2002-03 (with an overall increase of 5% over the 4 years), the number of admissions to public psychiatric hospitals in that time has fallen 24% to 14,570. Mental health-related admissions to public acute hospitals rose by more than 11% over the 4 years (to 140,435 admissions), and admissions to private hospitals fluctuated around 37,000 each year.

25 February 2005

Further information: Ms Gail Weaving, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1050 or mobile 0407 915 851.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032.