Australia's mental health system

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Australia's mental health system (221KB PDF)

National mental health policies and strategies

The Australian Government and all state and territory governments share responsibility for mental health policy and the provision of support services for Australians living with a mental disorder. State and territory governments are responsible for the funding and provision of state and territory public specialised mental health services and associated psychosocial support services. The Australian Government funds primary care and out of hospital specialised care through the Medicare Benefits Schedule and also funds a range of services for people living with mental health difficulties. These provisions are coordinated and monitored through a range of initiatives, including nationally agreed strategies and plans.

The importance of good mental health, and its impact on Australians, have long been recognised by Australian governments. Over the last 3 decades these governments have worked together, via the National Mental Health Strategy, to develop mental health programs and services to better address the mental health needs of Australians. The National Mental Health Strategy has included five 5-year National Mental Health Plans which cover the period 1993 to 2022 (DoH 2018), with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) National Action Plan on Mental Health overlapping between 2006 and 2011. A sixth National Mental Health plan is currently under development

Monitoring mental health consumer and carer experiences has been a long-term goal of the National Mental Health Strategy. More information on consumer and carer experiences is progressively becoming available through the Your Experience of Service (YES) survey, which is currently used in some jurisdictions in Australia. It is offered to consumers who interact with specialised state and territory mental health services and aims to help these services and mental health consumers to work together to build better services. More information on the YES survey can be found in the Consumer perspectives of mental health care section. Information on the outcomes of mental health care is also reported to gauge the effectiveness of mental health services from the perspective of both clinicians and consumers. These data form part of the National Outcomes and Casemix Collection (NOCC) More information can be found in the Consumer outcomes in mental health care section.

Roles and responsibilities

There is a division of roles and responsibilities in Australia’s mental health system, with services being delivered and/or funded by the Australian Government, state and territory governments and the private and non-government sectors.

Service access

The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing collected data on mental health service access in the preceding 12 months. From this survey, it was estimated that about a third (35%) of people with symptoms of a mental disorder in the previous 12 months (equivalent to about 1.3 million people based on the estimated 2017 population) made use of mental health services (Slade et al. 2009). Of these:

  • 71% consulted a general practitioner
  • 38% consulted a psychologist
  • 23% consulted a psychiatrist.

Of those who did not access mental health care, the majority (86%) reported that they perceived having no need for any mental health care. More recent estimates suggest that the treatment rates identified in 2007 have increased (to 46% in 2009–10), due primarily to the introduction of government subsidised mental health treatment items to Medicare (Whiteford et al. 2014).

During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019–20, 45% of MBS mental health specific services were provided by psychologists (including clinical psychologists), 31% were provided by GPs and 20% were provided by psychiatrists (AIHW 2021).

In 2018–19, 9% of the Australian population received clinical mental health services through a GP, 2% from a private psychiatrist, and 2% received clinical mental health services through a public specialised service (for example, hospital or community care) (AIHW 2021).