Service contact characteristics

Type of service contacts

Community mental health care service contacts can be conducted either with an individual or in a group session. Service contacts can be face-to-face, via telephone, or using other forms of direct communication such as video link. They can be conducted either in the presence of the patient, or with a third party, such as a carer or family member, and/or other professional or mental health worker.

The majority of service contacts reported in 2015–16 involved individual sessions (88.0%) (Figure CMHC.7). More than half (56.8%) of all contacts were individual sessions where the patient participated in the service contact (termed patient present).

Of the 5 most common specific principal diagnoses, the patients most likely to be present for an individual contact were those diagnosed with a Depressive episode (67.1%) or a Schizoaffective disorder (62.0%). Patients with Schizophrenia had the highest proportion of group contacts (13.3%). Patients with a Reaction to severe stress and adjustment disorder had the highest proportion of service contacts where the patient was absent (42.2%).

Figure CMHC.7 Community mental health care service contacts, by session type and participation status, 2015–16 

Pie chart showing community mental health care session type by participation status, as a proportion of all service contacts. Service contacts in an individual setting with the patient present accounted for 57%25 of service contacts. Individual contacts in which the patient was absent accounted for 31%25. Group service contacts were more often conducted with the patient absent (8%25) as opposed to when they were present (4%25). Refer to Table CMHC.17.

Source: National Community Mental Health Care Database.

Source data: Community mental health care services 2015–16 Table CMHC.17 (202KB XLS).

Duration of service contacts

The duration of service contacts ranged from less than 5 minutes to over 3 hours. The average service contact duration was 36 minutes in 2015–16. More than a third of contacts were between 5–15 minutes (41.2%, or about 3.9 million) and around a quarter of contacts were between 16–30 minutes (23.0%; or about 2.2 million) (Figure CMHC.8). Service contacts with the patient present were on average longer in duration, averaging 42 minutes, than those with the patient absent averaging 25 minutes.

Figure CMHC.8 Community mental health care service contacts, by session duration and participation status, 2015–16   

Stacked horizontal bar chart showing the duration of community mental health service contacts by session duration and participation status (whether the patient was present or absent) in 2015–16. The most frequent duration was 5–15 minutes with slightly more than half of the contacts with the patient present. Contacts more than 3 hours were more likely to include the patient present, while those 5 minutes or less were more likely to exclude the patient (patient absent). Refer to Table CMHC.19.

Source: National Community Mental Health Care Database.

Source data: Community mental health care services 2015–16 Table CMHC.19 (202KB XLS). 

Of the 5 most commonly reported specific principal diagnoses, Reaction to severe stress and adjustment disorders had the highest proportion of contacts lasting over 1 hour (14.1%). Service contacts lasting less than 5 minutes were not commonly conducted with patients who had 1 of the 5 most frequently recorded specific principal diagnoses (4.3% or less for each principal diagnosis).

Contact duration over time

Issues with data coverage for Victorian and Tasmanian data in 2011–12 and 2012–13 and 2015–16 (Victoria only), have impacted on the ability to perform long term trend analysis for these jurisdictions, as well as at the national level. The average time per contact has steadily declined over time, from 65 minutes per contact in 2011–12, to 36 minutes per contact in 2015–16. This analysis should be interpreted with caution. The absence of Victorian data in 2011–12 and 2012–13 is likely to have affected average duration, especially for the 2011–12 collection period, as Victoria reported lower than average contact times compared to other states and territories. The average contact duration excluding Victoria for 2015–16 was 37 minutes.

Since 2013–14, the number of short-duration contacts (under 5 minutes) has increased 4-fold, from 86,742 to 350,695. This increase is mostly due to a change in Queensland’s reporting system during the 2014–15 reporting period, which allowed for contact duration to be recorded individually for each consumer reviewed in group sessions. Short-duration contacts, excluding Queensland, increase by around 6.9% between 2013–14 and 2015–16.

Mental health legal status

About 1 in 7 (13.5%, 1,223,941) community mental health care service contacts in 2015–16 involved a patient with an involuntary mental health legal status. Western Australia reported the lowest proportion of involuntary contacts (1.7%), while the Australian Capital Territory reported the highest (37.6%). These differences most likely reflect the different legislative arrangements in place amongst the jurisdictions.

Of the 5 most commonly reported specific principal diagnoses, Schizoaffective disorders accounted for the highest proportion of contacts involving a patient with an involuntary mental health legal status (37.0%), followed by Schizophrenia (31.5%) and Bipolar affective disorder (20.7%). Lower proportions of involuntary mental health legal status service contacts were seen in patients with a principal diagnosis of a Depressive episode (2.7%) and Reaction to severe stress and adjustment disorders (2.0%).

Figure CMHC.9 Community mental health care service contacts, by principal diagnosis and mental health legal status, 2015–16   

Horizontal bar chart comparing the number of voluntary and involuntary contacts for 5 most commonly reported principal diagnoses. Of involuntary contacts, those with a diagnosis of Schizophrenia were the most common amounting to 559,258 contacts. Involuntary contacts with a principal diagnosis of reaction to severe stress and adjustment disorders were the least common with 6,548 contacts. Refer to Table CMHC.25.

Source: National Community Mental Health Care Database.

Source data: Community mental health care services 2015–16 Table CMHC.25 (202KB XLS).

Improvements in the reporting of legal status and issues with data coverage for Victorian and Tasmanian data in 2011–12 and 2012–13, have had an impact on the ability to perform long term trend analysis of the rate of involuntary contacts. Consequently, the national rates over time should be interpreted with caution.

Target population

Target population refers to the population group that is primarily targeted by a community mental health care service. Community mental health care services are described by 5 target population categories:General, Child and Adolescent, Youth, Older Person and Forensic.

Services targeted toward the General population provided 65.4% of all treatment days, Forensic services (see the target population definition) accounted for 13.8%, and Child and Adolescent services accounted for 13.1% in 2015–16. Services targeted towards Older Persons (6.3%) and Youth (1.4%) populations accounted for much smaller proportions of treatment days. These results largely mirror the relative size (as measured by the number of staff) for each of the Community mental health care service target population categories (see the Facilities section Table FAC.40).