Community mental health care services

Mental illness is often treated in community and hospital-based outpatient care services provided by state and territory governments. Collectively, these services are referred to specialised community mental health care (CMHC) services.

State and territory health authorities collect a core set of information 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. More information about the NCMHCD is available in the data source section.

Key points

  • Around 9.7 million community mental health care service contacts were provided to approximately 453,000 patients in 2018–19.
  • The most common principal diagnosis recorded for patients during a service contact was Schizophrenia, followed by Depressive episode and Schizoaffective disorder.
  • Involuntary contacts accounted for about 1 in 7 (14.0%) of all contacts.
  • 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.

Data downloads and links:

Community mental health care services 2018–19 tables (187KB XLSX)

Community mental health care services 2018–19 section (486KB PDF)

Community mental health care interactive data

Data source information and key concepts related to this section.

Data coverage includes the time period 2005–06 to 2018–19. Data in this section was last updated in October 2020.

Services provided

Around 9.7 million service contacts were provided by community mental health care services to over 453,000 patients in 2018–19. This equates to an average of 21.4 service contacts per patient.

The national average rate of patients receiving services was 18.0 patients per 1,000 population. The rate was highest in the Northern Territory (29.3 patients per 1,000 population) and lowest in Victoria (11.8) (Figure CMHC.1). Differences in jurisdictional data reporting systems may contribute to the observed variation in service contact rates.

Figure CMHC.1:  Community mental health care patients, by states and territories, 2018-19.

Vertical bar chart showing community mental health care patient rates for states and territories in 2018–19. The Northern Territory reported the highest rate of 29.3 patients per 1,000 population followed by the Australian Capital Territory (25.7), Western Australia (24.4), South Australia (23.5), Queensland (21.0), Tasmania (17.6), New South Wales (17.2), and Victoria (11.8). The total rate of community mental health care patients was 18.0 per 1,000 population (Refer to Table CMHC.1).

Visualisation not available for printing

Source data:Community mental health care services tables (187KB XLSX).

Changes over time

In 2005­–06, almost 5.7 million community mental health care service contacts took place across Australia. This increased to around 9.7 million in 2018–19.

The rate of both service contacts and patients per 1,000 population across Australia increased between 2014–15 and 2018–19 at an annual average of 0.8% and 1.5% respectively. However, the annual change over this time varied across jurisdictions, with Tasmania reporting decreases in the rate of both service contacts and patients (-6.2% and -1.8% respectively), New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory reporting decreases in service contacts (-1.0% and -0.8% respectively), and the Northern Territory reporting a decrease in patients (-0.8%).

Although the rate of service contacts in the Australian Capital Territory decreased between 2014–15 and 2018–19, it had the highest rate of service contacts of any state or territory in 2018–19 (749.5 per 1,000 population). Tasmania had the lowest rate at 212.1 per 1,000 population.

Treatment periods

Four in 10 registered patients (40.0% or 181,053 people) had a length of treatment of 92 days or more (the time between their first and last service contact during the reporting period) in 2018–19.

These patients received the highest proportion of treatment days ​(80.8%) from community mental health care services (Figure CMHC.2).

Figure CHMC.2: Patients and total treatment days, by length of treatment period, 2018-19.

Stacked vertical bar chart showing length of treatment period and the proportion of patients that received different lengths of treatment. 36.0% of patients received very brief treatment (1–14 days), 24.0% received short term treatment (15–91 days) and 40.0% received medium to longer term treatment (92+ days). 6.0% of reported treatment days were very brief, 13.2% were short term treatment and 80.8% were medium to longer term treatment (Refer to table CMHC.24).