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. Data from the National Community Mental Health Care Database (NCMHCD) are used to describe the care provided by these services. The statistical counting unit used in the NCMHCD is 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: Victoria (2011–12, 2012–13, 2015–16 and 2016–17) and Tasmania (2011–12 and 2012–13). In 2016–17, New South Wales and the Northern Territory also reported reduced data coverage. 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 for the years 2011–12, 2012–13, 2015–16 and 2016–17.

Data downloads:

Community mental health care services 2016–17 tables (354KB XLS)

Community mental health care services 2016–17 section (536KB)

Data coverage includes the time period 2006–07 to 2016–17. This section was last updated in October 2018.


Key points

  • Around 8.9 million community mental health care service contacts were provided to approximately 420,000 patients in 2016–17.
  • Indigenous patients received community mental health care services at around 3 times the rate of non-Indigenous patients (51.2 compared to 15.7 per 1,000 population) in 2016–17.
  • Females aged 12–17 years had the highest community mental health care service contact rate in 2016–17 (756.8 service contacts per 1,000 population).
  • The most common 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 a duration of 5–15 minutes.
  • Involuntary contacts accounted for about one-eighth (13.8%) of all contacts.

Community mental health care service provision

States and territories

Around 8.9 million service contacts were provided to patients in 2016–17. The number of service contacts per 1,000 population varied between states and territories in 2016‑17, with the Australian Capital Territory reporting the highest rate (769.7) and Victoria the lowest (252.9). Differences in jurisdictional data reporting systems may contribute to the observed variation in service contact rates. In 2016–17, Victoria, New South Wales and the Northern Territory reported reduced data coverage and some under reporting of service contacts, which may contribute to variation in service contact rates, more information is in the data quality statement.

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 and 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 2016–17, 97.3% of all service contacts reported were provided to unique patients.

Around 420,000 people received community mental health care in 2016–17. The number of patients per 1,000 population ranged between 10.7 (Victoria) and 30.2 (Northern Territory) (Figure CMHC.1).


Figure CMHC.1 Alternative text - Source data: Community mental health care services tables (354KB XLS).

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 treatments days provided—the number of days during the reporting period that an individual patient received one or more service contact. 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 (40.5% or 170,182 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 (82.0% of treatment days) (Figure CMHC.2). Around a third of patients (36.0% or 151,053 registered patients) had a very brief length of treatment period (1–14 days) and received 5.6% of the total number of treatment days.