Australia's mental health system

Data downloads

Australia's mental health system (363KB 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.

Diagram showing the different roles and responsibilities of the Australian government, state and territory governments and the private community sector in Australia's mental health system.

Service access

The 2020–21 National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing collected data on mental health service access in the preceding 12 months. From this survey, it is estimated that 3.4 million Australians aged 16–85 saw a health professional for their mental health in the previous 12 months (ABS 2022). Of those with a lifetime mental disorder who experienced symptoms within the last 12 months:

  • 38% consulted a general practitioner
  • 22% consulted a psychologist
  • 8% consulted a psychiatrist.

Which health professions did Australians consult for mental health?

This figure shows the number of males and females who accessed mental health professionals in the previous 12 months. Health professionals include GP's, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, mental health nurses other mental health professionals and no consultation with a health professional for mental health.

About 860,000 Australians aged 16–85 also accessed at least one digital service used for mental health, such as crisis support, treatment programs or information (ABS 2022).

Of those who did not access mental health care, the majority (89%) reported that they perceived having no need for any mental health care.

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 general practitioners (GPs) and 20% were provided by psychiatrists (AIHW 2021).