Medicare-subsidised mental health services

The mental health impacts of bushfires on individuals and communities are varied, and often long-term (Black Dog Institute 2020).

Data from the 2011–12 Victoria Population Health Survey showed that:

  • 1 in 5 adults (22%) who were affected by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires showed signs of depression or anxiety
  • 1 in 10 (9.3%) accessed counselling or specialist mental health services (Department of Health & Human Services 2016).

In addition to admitted patient (hospitalisations) and emergency department presentations for mental health-related conditions mentioned elsewhere in this report, the short-term impacts of the 2019–20 bushfires (and beyond) can be informed through analysis of claims made through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). The MBS is a listing of services that qualify for a benefit under the Health Insurance Act 1973. The associated MBS claims data comprise information on MBS services claimed through Medicare. These include visits to a general practitioner (GP) or to certain specialists and allied health professionals, and hospital visits by a private patient in a public or private hospital. For more information on the MBS, see Technical notes.

Data used in this section refer to the Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services provided by psychiatrists, GPs, psychologists and other allied health professionals. These data relate only to mental health services that are claimed under specific mental health care MBS item numbers (AIHW 2021); therefore, services provided by practitioners who do not claim items under MBS mental health items are not captured in these data. A complete list of the item numbers included can be found in Supplementary table S9.

MBS claims made during the 2019–20 bushfire season (1 September 2019 to 29 February 2020), and the average of the 2014–15 to 2018–19 bushfire seasons, are presented by Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4) for all Medicare-subsidised mental health services. The claims data show variability over the period analysed, and should be interpreted with caution.

At the level of Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4), there were generally increases in the total rate of claims for all Medicare-subsidised mental health services in the 2019–20 bushfire season compared with the previous 5-year average. For all data by Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4), see Supplementary table S6.

It is important to note that these data provide a snapshot of a particular point in time and longitudinal data could show further trends in mental health impacts over time.

References

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2021. Mental health services in Australia. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 19 July 2021.

Black Dog Institute 2020. Mental Health Interventions Following Disasters. New South Wales: Black Dog Institute. Viewed 19 July 2021.

Department of Health and Human Services 2016. The health and wellbeing of Victorian adults affected by the bushfires in 2009—fact sheet. Victoria: Department of Health & Human Services. Viewed 19 July 2021.