Hospital emergency services

Mental health services provided in emergency departments

Hospital emergency departments (EDs) play a role in treating mental illness. For a range of reasons, an ED may be an initial point of care for people seeking mental health-related services for the first time, as well as an alternative point of care for people seeking after-hours mental health care ( Morphet et al. 2012).

State and territory health authorities collect a core set of nationally comparable information on most public hospital ED presentations in their jurisdiction, which is compiled annually into the National Non-Admitted Patient Emergency Department Care Database (NNAPEDCD). The data reported for 2014–15 to 2016–17 is sourced from the NNAPEDCD. Information about mental health-related services provided in EDs prior to 2014–15 was supplied directly to the AIHW by states and territories. As such, any time series including earlier data comparisons should be made with caution (refer to  the data source section for more information).

Mental health-related ED presentations in this section are defined as presentations to public hospital EDs that have a principal diagnosis of Mental and behavioural disorders. This definition has a number of limitations. For example, the definition does not fully capture all potentially mental health-related presentations to EDs such as intentional self-harm, as intent can be difficult to identify in an ED environment and can also be difficult to code. Therefore, the data presented in this section are likely to under-report the actual number of mental health-related ED presentations. More details about identifying mental health presentations in the NNAPEDCD are available in the data source section.

Data downloads:

Emergency departments 2016–17 tables (157KB XLS)

Emergency departments 2016–17 section (544KB)

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

Key points

  • 276,954 presentations to Australian EDs in 2016–17 were mental health-related, which was 3.6% of all presentations.
  • 79.2% of these mental health-related ED presentations were classified with a triage status of either Semi-urgent (patient should be seen within 60 minutes) or Urgent (seen within 30 minutes).
  • 68.0% of mental health-related ED presentations were seen on time (based on triage status) compared with 73.0% of all ED presentations.
  • More than half (53.5%) of mental health-related ED presentations had a principal diagnosis of either Neurotic, stress-related and somatoform disorders or Mental and behavioural disorders due to psychoactive substance use.

Service provision

States and territories

There were 276,954 public hospital ED presentations with a mental health-related principal diagnosis recorded in 2016–17, representing 3.6% of all ED presentations. South Australia had the highest mental health-related proportion of ED presentations (4.8%) and Victoria the lowest (3.1%) (Figure ED.1). Nationally, the rate of mental health-related ED presentations was 113.6 per 10,000 population. The Northern Territory had the highest rate (266.9) and Victoria the lowest (86.7). These differences are likely to be due to varying population characteristics, health-care systems and service delivery practices between states and territories.

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