State and territory community mental health care services

Mental illness is frequently treated in community and hospital-based outpatient care settings. Collectively, these services are referred to as community mental health care. State and territory health authorities collect a core set of information on government-funded community mental health care services in their jurisdiction for the Community Mental Health Care National Minimum Data Set (CMHC NMDS), which is compiled annually into the National Community Mental Health Care Database (NCMHCD). Data from the NCMHCD are used to describe the care provided by these services. The statistical counting unit used in the NCMHCD is a service contact between either a patient or a third party and a specialised community mental health care service provider.

More information about the coverage and data quality of the NCMHCD is available in the data source section. Staff industrial action has resulted in a substantial reduction in data coverage for two jurisdictions in previous years: Victoria (2011–12, 2012–13, 2015–16 and 2016–17) and Tasmania (2011–12 and 2012–13). New South Wales and the Northern Territory also reported reduced data coverage for 2016–17 and 2017–18. Further information on data coverage can be found in the CMHC NMDS data quality statement. The observed reductions in both service contact and patient numbers are considered to be primarily due to these missing data and consequently, long term trends in the total number of service contacts are not available.

The footnotes in each of the accompanying MS Excel tables have details about the calculation of national rates over time.

Data downloads:

Community mental health care services 2017–18 tables (745KB XLS)

Community mental health care services 2017–18 section (621KB)

Data coverage includes the time period 2005–06 to 2017–18. Data in this section was last updated in October 2019.


Key points

  • Around 9.5 million community mental health care service contacts were provided to approximately 435,000 patients in 2017–18.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients received community mental health care services at around 3 times the rate of non-Indigenous patients (53.8 compared to 16.1 per 1,000 population) in 2017–18.
  • Females aged 12–17 years had the highest community mental health care service contact rate in 2017–18 (872.5 service contacts per 1,000 population).
  • The most common specific principal diagnosis recorded for patients during a service contact was Schizophrenia, followed by Depressive episode and Schizoaffective disorder.
  • The most frequently recorded type of community mental health care service contact was with an individual patient (as opposed to a group session) and had a duration of 5–15 minutes.
  • Involuntary contacts accounted for about one-seventh (14.5%) of all contacts.

Community mental health care services provision

States and territories

Around 9.5 million service contacts were provided by community mental health care services to patients in 2017–18. The number of service contacts per 1,000 population varied between states and territories in 2017–18, with the Australian Capital Territory reporting the highest rate (767.5) and Tasmania the lowest (281.8). Differences in jurisdictional data reporting systems may contribute to the observed variation in service contact rates. Reduced data coverage or under reporting of service contacts may also contribute to variation in service contact rates. For further information see the data quality statement for 2017–18 .

The number of unique patients provided with service contacts can be derived from the NCMHCD. However, the patient count is limited to those people registered with state and territory community mental health care systems that have a unique person identifier—that is, a person has one identifier across all individual service providers within a state or territory. The ability of jurisdictions to generate unique person identifiers varies, as described in the data quality statement for the CMHC NMDS. In 2017–18, 96.9% of all service contacts reported were provided to unique patients.

Around 435,000 people received community mental health care in 2017–18. The number of patients per 1,000 population ranged between 11.5 (Victoria) and 28.5 (Northern Territory) (Figure CMHC.1).


Description of figure CMHC.1 - Source data: Community mental health care services tables (745KB XLS).

Treatment periods

Two important measures of the amount of treatment provided to registered patients can be derived from the NCMHCD:

  1. Length of treatment period—the total amount of time between the first and last service contact for each patient during the reporting period. Treatment periods are defined in this report as very brief (1–14 days), short term (15–91 days) and medium to longer term (92+ days).
  2. Number of treatment days provided—the number of days during the reporting period that an individual patient received one or more service contacts. The number of treatment days are grouped as follows in Table CMHC.24; 1–9 days, 10–19 days, 20–29 days, 30–39 days and 40+ days.

Overall, around 2 in 5 patients (40.6% or 176,524 registered patients) had a medium to longer term length of treatment period (92+ days). Medium to longer term treatment periods also involved the most treatment days (81.4% of treatment days) (Figure CMHC.2). Around a third of patients (35.6% or 154,968 registered patients) had a very brief length of treatment period (1–14 days) and received 5.7% of the total number of treatment days.