Medicare-subsidised mental health‑specific services

Medicare-subsidised mental health‑specific services are provided by psychiatrists, general practitioners (GPs), psychologists and other allied health professionals. The services described here are provided in a range of settings—for example, hospitals, consulting rooms, home visits, telephone and videoconferencing—as defined in the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). Information is presented on both patient and service provider characteristics and is limited to MBS-subsidised services only. These data relate only to mental health services that are claimed under specific mental health care MBS item numbers. Therefore, the reported number of patients who receive mental health-related services is unlikely to represent all patients who receive mental health care. It is unclear how many additional people receive GP mental health-related care that is billed as a consultation against generic GP MBS item numbers. For further information on the MBS data, refer to the data source section on this website.

Additional mental health-specific items are included in the MBS periodically. There were a number of new items introduced during the 2019–20 collection period including:

  • November 2019: to support patients with eating disorders
  • January 2020: for Australians adversely affected by bushfire
  • March 2020: in response to COVID-19 to support provision of care via telehealth.

Data downloads:

Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services 2019–20 tables (740KB XLSX)

Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services 2019–20 section (331KB PDF)

Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services 2019–20 interactive data

Data source and key concepts related to this section.

Data presented covers the time period 1984–85 to 2019–20. This section was last updated in May 2021.

Key points

  • 10.7% of Australians (2.7 million people) accessed 12.4 million Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services in 2019–20. This is an increase from 6.2% of Australians in 2009–10.
  • 12.8% of Australian females accessed Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services compared to 8.5% of Australian males in 2019–20.
  • 45.3% of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services were provided by psychologists (including clinical psychologists), 30.6%  were provided by GPs and 20.3% were provided by psychiatrists in 2019–20.
  • 11.8% of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services were delivered via telehealth in 2019–20.
  • In the April–June period of 2020 3.2% fewer people accessed services compared to the January–March period of 2020, while 8.4% more services were accessed.

People receiving services

In 2019–20, 2.7 million Australians (10.7% of the population) received Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services. Victoria had the highest proportion of the population receiving services (11.4%), closely followed by Queensland (11.2%). The Northern Territory had the lowest proportion of the population receiving services (5.7%) (Figure MBS.1).

Figure MBS.1: Proportion of  population receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services, by states and territories, 2019-20.

Vertical bar chart showing the proportion of each state and territories population who received Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services, by state or territory in 2019–20. Victoria (11.4%) and Queensland (11.2%) had a higher proportion of the population accessing services than the national proportion (10.7%). New South Wales had 10.4% of their populations receiving services, followed by South Australia (10.3%), Tasmania (10.2%), Western Australia (10.1%), the Australian Capital Territory (9.5%) and the Northern Territory (5.7%). Refer to Table MBS.1.

Visualisation not available for printing

Source data: XLS DownloadMedicare-subsidised mental health-specific services 2019–20 tables (740KB XLSX)

People aged 18–24 years were most likely to receive Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services (15.3% of people aged 18-24 years), followed by 25–34 years (14.5%) and 35–44 years (14.1%) (Figure MBS.2). A higher proportion of females (12.8% of the female population) accessed services compared with males (8.5%). The proportion of the Australian population receiving services varied according to the remoteness area of patient’s residence. The proportion of people receiving services was highest for those living in Major cities and Inner regional areas (11.1%), with the proportion of the population receiving services decreasing with increasing remoteness to 3.1% of people living in Very remote areas.

Figure MBS.2: Proportion of population receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services, by demographic group 2019-20.

Horizontal bar chart showing the percentage of specific demographic populations who received Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services during 2019–20, by key demographics. In 2019–20, patients aged 0–4 years were the lowest users of services (1.0% of people aged 0-4 years). The proportion of each age group population accessing services increased for people aged 5–11 years (6.8%) and 12–17 years (12.5%), and was highest for the age groups 18–24 (15.3%), 25–34 (14.5%) and 35–44 (14.1%); and then gradually decreased for older age groups 45–54 years (12.5%) and 55–64 years (10.0%), 65–74 years (6.8%), 75–84 years (5.2%) and 85 years and over (3.4%). By sex, a greater proportion of the female population (12.8%) accessed services compared with males (8.5%). For remoteness area, the same proportion of people living in Major cities and Inner regional areas (11.1%) accessed services, and the percentage of the population accessing services decreased as remoteness increased: Outer regional (8.7%), Remote (6.1%) and Very remote (3.1%). Refer to Table MBS.2.

Visualisation not available for printing

Source data: XLS DownloadMedicare-subsidised mental health-specific services 2019–20 tables (740KB XLSX)

In 2019–20, 8.8% of the Australian population received Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services from a general practitioner; 1.7% received services from a psychiatrist; 2.2% received Psychological Therapy Services from a clinical psychologist; 2.9% received psychology services other than Psychological Therapy Services, from a psychologist (clinical psychologist or other psychologist); and 0.4% received services from other allied health professionals, noting that an individual may receive services from more than one provider type. See General Practice section at end of chapter for further information about mental health-related GP care.

Over time

The number of people receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services increased from 1.4 million (6.2% of Australians) in 2009–10 to 2.7 million (10.7% of Australians) in 2019–20. Increases were seen for all provider types, with the greatest percentage point increase occurring for general practitioners (from 4.8% to 8.8%). The proportion of Australians accessing clinical psychologist MBS services has increased from being lower than the proportion accessing psychiatrist MBS services in 2009–10 to exceeding it in 2019–20 (Figure MBS.3).

Figure MBS.3: Proportion of the Australian population receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services, by provider type 2009-10 to 2019-20.

Line chart showing the percentage of Australians receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health services by provider from 2009–10 to 2019–20. The percentage of Australians receiving services from psychiatrists increased from 1.3% in 2009–10 to 1.7% in 2019–20, GPs increased from 4.8% to 8.8%, clinical psychologists 1.0% to 2.2%, other psychologists 1.8% to 2.9%, and other allied health providers 0.2% to 0.4%. The percentage of Australians receiving services from all providers increased from 6.2% in 2009–10 to 10.7% in 2019–20. Refer to Table MBS.4.

Visualisation not available for printing

Source data: XLS DownloadMedicare-subsidised mental health-specific services 2019–20 tables (740KB XLSX)

 

General practitioners

Mental health-specific services

Services

There were 12.4 million Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services provided to 2.7 million Australians in 2019–20. Further details of the characteristics of these services are described below. Victoria (542.6 services per 1,000 population) had the highest rate of services, and Northern Territory (164.3) had the lowest, considerably lower than the national rate (486.1) (Figure MBS.4).

Figure  MBS.4: Rate (per 1,000 population) of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services, by states and territories, 2019-20.

Vertical bar chart showing the Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific service rate (per 1,000 population), by states and territories in 2019–20. Victoria (542.6 per 1,000 population) and Queensland (521.1) had the highest rate of services per 1,000 population, greater than the national rate (486.1). In the other states and territories, New South Wales had 459.9 services per 1,000 population, followed by Tasmania (452.8), South Australia (450.9), Western Australia (430.9), the Australian Capital Territory (403.1), and the Northern Territory had the lowest rate of 164.3. Refer to Table MBS.12.

Visualisation not available for printing

Source data: XLS DownloadMedicare-subsidised mental health-specific services 2019–20 tables (740KB XLSX)

In 2019–20, Australians aged 18–24 years had the highest rate of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific service use (69.6 services per 100 people aged 18–24 years), and people aged 0–4 years had the lowest usage rate (2.6 services per 100 people aged 0–4 years). Females had a higher rate of service usage than males (60.8 and 36.2 services per 100 females and males, respectively). People living in Major cities had the highest rate of service use (52.5 services per 100 people living in Major cities), with rates decreasing with increasing remoteness to 9.4 for Very remote (Figure MBS.5).

Figure MBS.5: Rate (per 100  population) of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services accessed by patients, by patient demographics, 2019-20.

Horizontal bar chart showing the rates of Medicare-subsidised mental health services per 100 population by demographics in 2019–20. Service use in 2019–20 was lowest among patients aged 0–4 years (2.6 services per 100 population), and increased with age to 26.7 for 5–11 years and to 56.6 for 12–17 years and was highest for those aged 18–24 years (69.6), and gradually decreased for older age groups: 25–34 years (65.3), 35–44 years (65.1); 45–54 years (59.1), 55–64 years (48.4), 65–74 years (30.9), 75–84 years (20.6), and 85 years over (11.6). By sex, females accessed a greater number of services per 100 population than males (60.8 compared with 36.2 respectively). For remoteness area, the highest service rate was seen in Major cities (52.5 per 100 population) with service rates decreasing as remoteness increased: Inner regional (45.9), Outer regional (31.3), Remote (19.3) and Very remote (9.4). Refer to Table MBS.10.

Visualisation not available for printing

Source data:  XLS DownloadMedicare-subsidised mental health-specific services 2019–20 tables (740KB XLSX)

Average number of services per patient

In 2019–20, patients in Victoria had the highest average number of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services per patient (4.8), compared to the national average of 4.5 services per patient. The Northern Territory had the lowest number of services per patient at 2.9. The average number of services per patient for all other states and territories ranged between 4.2 and 4.6 services per patient. For the age groups analysed, people aged 55–64 had the highest average number of services per patient (4.8) and patients aged 0–4 years had the lowest (2.6). Females had more services per patient than males (4.7 and 4.2, respectively).

Over time

The total number of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services increased from 7.0 million in 2009–10 to 12.4 million in 2019–20; increasing from 319.6 services per 1,000 population in 2009–10 to 486.1 in 2019–20 (Figure MBS.6). The increase in the rate of services was mostly due to increases in services provided by GPs (increase of 2.0 million from 2009–10 to 2019–20), followed by Psychological Therapy Services provided by clinical psychologists (1.5 million), and other psychological services provided by clinical psychologists and other psychologists (1.2 million). There was a relatively small increase in the rate of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services delivered by psychiatrists (average annual change of 0.9% from 2009–10 to 2019–20). In 2006–07 new items were added through the Better Access initiative. In 2019–20, further Better Access items were added, as well as additional mental health-related items in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (next section). Refer to DOH 2020 reference for further information about Better Access.

Figure MBS.6:  Rate (per 1,000 population) for Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services, by provider type 2009-10  to 2019-20.

Vertical bar chart showing the service use rate per 1,000 population for Medicare-subsidised mental health services by provider from 2009–10 to 2019–20. The rate of services per 1,000 population provided by psychiatrists increased from 90.7 in 2009–10 to 98.7 in 2019–20, GPs increased from 83.9 to 148.6 per 1,000 population, clinical psychologists 49.7 to 100.5, other psychologists 86.2 to 119.6, and other allied health professionals 9.1 to 18.7. Refer to Table MBS.12.

Visualisation not available for printing

Source data: Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services 2019–20 tables (740KB XLSX)

Services provided via telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic

During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government introduced a wide range of additions to the MBS to support provision of care via telehealth, to help reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 and provide protection for both patients and health care providers. These items include mental health services provided by GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists and allied health workers.

Nearly 1.5 million (11.8%) services were provided via telehealth (phone or video) in 2019–20. Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists provided a higher proportion of Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services via telehealth than other types of providers (14.6% and 14.4% respectively), and GPs provided the lowest proportion of mental health MBS services via telehealth (8.2%). For more detail about the use of telehealth services during the pandemic, more information can be found in the Mental health impact of COVID-19 section.

Use of services during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic

New analyses of the Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services by quarter have been included to show seasonal variations in service use, and provide more insight into the impact of events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. These include service and person counts disaggregated by provider type, age group and sex (Tables MBS.24–MBS.27).

From 2015–16 to 2018–19 the number of people receiving Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services and the number of services being delivered was consistently highest in the April–June period and lowest in the October–December period. Note that reduced service usage is typical during public holidays and particularly the Christmas/New Year period.

In 2019–20, an unseasonably low number of people used services in April–June, likely due to movement restrictions during lockdown periods. However, a relatively high number of services were still used, meaning more services were used per person in April–June (2.1) than in other quarters (1.8–1.9).

Providers show different patterns of activity over the year. Psychiatrists provide services to a relatively stable number of patients, while GPs and psychologists show more seasonal variations. The number of patients accessing GP provided mental health services typically peak in the January–March period, while the number of patients accessing psychologist provided services typically peak in the April–June period. However this pattern was not observed in 2019–20; it is too early to tell if this is a one-off change driven by lockdown restrictions.