General practice

General practitioners (GPs) are often the first port of call for people seeking help with a mental illness. GPs provide a variety of mental health care services to people in need, and may refer patients on to specialised services. This section presents information on mental health-related services provided by GPs, from 2 data sources:

  1. Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) survey of general practice activity, which provides detailed information about GP encounters (Britt et al. 2016) based on data collected from a sample of GPs (throughout this section referred to as estimated GP encounters). The last survey was conducted during the 2015–16 period.
  2. Mental health-related Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items provided by GPs (throughout this section referred to as Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services).

These 2 data sources provide complementary insights into mental health-related GP care. Not all mental health-related GP encounters are billed using mental health-specific Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item numbers. Consequently the number of estimated GP encounters deemed to be mental health-related from the BEACH survey were greater than the number of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services. More details can be found in the data source section.

The cessation of the BEACH survey prevents ongoing comparison between the BEACH survey data and the Medicare data. The information presented in this section provides a summary of the 2015–16 data period and will not be updated further. The AIHW is actively pursuing the identification of alternative data sources to more accurately present information on mental health care provided by GPs.

Data downloads:

General practitioners 2015–16 tables (1.82MB XLS)

General practitioners 2015–16 section (294KB)

Data coverage includes the time period 2006–07 to 2015–16. This section was last updated in October 2018.

Key points

  • According to the BEACH survey, around 12.4% of all GP encounters were mental health-related in 2015
    –16, an increase from 10.8% in 2007–08.
  • Depression was the most commonly managed problem during a mental health-related estimated GP encounter (about one-third, or 32.1%).
  • The most common management of mental health-related problems was for the GP to prescribe, supply or recommend medication (61.6 per 100 mental health-related problems managed).
  • People aged 65+ had the highest rate of encounters of all the age groups (1,198.2 per 1,000 population), compared to a national rate of 749.9.

Service provision

The BEACH survey estimated that 12.4% of all GP encounters in 2015–16 were mental health-related encounters. This translates to almost 18.0 million mental health-related estimated GP encounters, or 749.9 encounters per 1,000 population. By comparison, in the same year about 3.2 million Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific GP services were provided, or 135.5 services per 1,000 population. More recent detailed data on Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific GP services is available in the Medicare services section of this website.

The proportion of all estimated GP encounters identified by the BEACH survey as being mental health-related increased from 10.8% in 2007–08 to 12.4% in 2015–16.

Since the introduction of GP specific services in November 2006, the proportion of estimated GP mental health-related activity billed as Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific GP services has increased from around 10% in 2007–08 to around 18% in 2016–17 ( Medicare services section).