Jurisdictional Mental Health Service Activity

New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria combined have reported around 89.8% of Australia’s COVID-19 cases to date (DoH 2020) and around 6 in 10 of all MBS mental health services between 16 March and 27 September 2020.

The NSW government has imposed a number of general restrictions on gatherings and movement during the pandemic and are continuously assessing areas identified as ‘hotspots’. Hotspot areas may be subjected to more restrictive measures, such as not being permitted to travel to certain other jurisdictions. NSW currently accepts the most international arrivals into the mandatory 2-week hotel quarantine program of any state. In September, NSW had the highest rate of contacts per 100,000 population with ReachOut digital health services.

On 2 August, stage 4 lockdowns began in Melbourne and surrounding Victorian regional areas in an attempt to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases. Restrictions involved curfews, a limit of how many kilometres from home a person could travel, and on people gathering. Regional Victoria was placed under more relaxed stage 3 limits. As of September 2020, COVID-19 case numbers in Victorian had reduced substantially and restrictions were gradually being lifted.

MBS services

In the week to 27 September 2020, people in NSW utilised 82,803 mental health-related MBS services, or 1,019 MBS services per 100,000 population, slightly above the rest of Australia (excluding NSW and Victoria). MBS service use in NSW peaked in the week to 30 August, with 86,240 services recorded that week.

Victorians utilised 87,705 (1,319 per 100,000 population) MBS services in the week to 27 September 2020, compared to 999 per 100,000 population for the rest of Australia (excluding NSW and Victoria) (Figure COVID.6). Use of mental health-related MBS services in Victoria peaked in the week to 13 September, with 91,493 services recorded that week.

Line graph showing the rate per 100,000 population of Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) mental health services delivered each week for New South Wales, Victoria and the rest of the country (all states and territories other than New South Wales and Victoria) between March and September 2020. The rate of services delivered in New South Wales increased from 737.3 per 100,000 population in April 2020 to peak at 1,047.8 in June. The rate then declined slightly but remained relatively stable since. The rate of services delivered in Victoria has fluctuated but overall has gradually increased from 848.4 per 100,000 population in April 2020 to peak at 1,375.6 in September 2020. The rate of services delivered in the rest of the country follows a similar pattern to New South Wales, increasing from 731.4 in April 2020 to peak at 1,069.5 in June then stabilising. Victoria has consistently had a higher rate of services than New South Wales and the rest of the country, with this gap having widened since August 2020.

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MBS mental health telehealth services by jurisdiction

There was a steep increase in the proportion of mental health-related MBS services delivered via telehealth in March and April 2020, followed by a slow decline through May and June 2020.  Victoria experienced another spike in telehealth mental health-related services in June 2020 when COVID-19 case numbers began to rise again. Between 31 August and 27 September 2020, Victoria had the highest proportion of MBS mental health-related services delivered via telehealth (62.5%) compared to NSW and the rest of Australia (excluding NSW and Victoria).

For NSW, almost a quarter (24.4%) of the 330,000 MBS services in the 4 weeks to 27 September 2020 were delivered via telehealth. This represents a slight decline from previous months and an overall decline from the 4 weeks of 27 April to 24 May 2020 when around 45.4% of mental health services were conducted via telehealth. Delivery of services via telehealth in NSW was higher over the 4 weeks to 27 September than in the rest of Australia (excluding NSW and Victoria) (16.9%).

In the 4 weeks to 27 September 2020, more than 60% of Victorian MBS services were provided via telehealth. As the use of telehealth mental health services in the rest of Australia (excluding NSW and Victoria) gradually decreased after peaking in April, telehealth use in Victoria began rising again from a low of around 40% in June to its present peak (Figure COVID.7).

Line graph showing the per cent of Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) mental health services delivered via telehealth each week for New South Wales, Victoria and the rest of the country (all states and territories other than New South Wales and Victoria). Telehealth services in New South Wales increased from 3.1% of all mental health services in March 2020 to peak at 48.8% in April. It then gradually declined to 23.7% in September. Telehealth services in Victoria increased from 2.5% in March 2020 to peak at 55.5% in April. It then declined to 39.4% in June before increasing to a second peak of 63.8% in August 2020. The rate of services delivered in the rest of the country follows a similar pattern to New South Wales, increasing from 3.0% in March to peak at 48.8% in April. It then gradually decline to 16.1% in September.

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Crisis support and digital health

More than 25,000 calls were answered by Lifeline from NSW residents in the 4 weeks to 27 September 2020, a 37.6% increase from the same time in 2019. This compares to almost 30,000 contacts, an 18.4% increase, for the rest of Australia (excluding NSW and Victoria) in the same period. Kids Helpline reported a similar increase for NSW, with a 37.3% increase in contacts answered compared to the same time in 2019.

Victorians have increased their use of crisis and support services, with Lifeline reporting their highest number of weekly answered contacts in August 2020 (Figure COVID.8). Compared to the same time period in 2019, Lifeline reported a 41.6% increase in answered contacts in Victoria in the 4 weeks to 27 September, compared to an 18.4% increase for the rest of Australia (excluding NSW and Victoria). Kids Helpline reported a 59.3% increase in answered contacts in 2020, compared to 22.0% for the rest of Australia (excluding NSW and Victoria), and Beyond Blue a 75.3% increase (compared to 10.0%).

Line graph showing weekly answered mental health support organisation contacts per 100,000 population for New South Wales, Victoria, and the rest of the country (all states and territories other than New South Wales and Victoria) for weeks commencing 6 January 2020 to 21 September 2020. Over this period, Lifeline answered contacts increased for New South Wales, Victoria, and the rest of the country. Kids Helpline responses to contacts increased for New South Wales from January to a peak in August and then returned to January-levels at the end of September. Kids Helpline responses to contacts from Victoria increased from January to September. Kids Helpline responses to contacts for the rest of the country increased from January to June, and then declined to September. Beyond Blue answered contacts for New South Wales, Victoria and the rest of the country increased from January to September.

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In the final week of September 2020, NSW residents visited ReachOut at a rate of just under 307 visits per 100,000 population, with a total of 115,000 visits from 31 August to 27 September 2020, an increase of 48% from the same time in 2019. Victorian residents accessed ReachOut at a rate of just under 238 visits per 100,000 population, or around 85,000 times from 31 August to 27 September 2020, representing an increase of 51% from visits at the same time in 2019 (Figure COVID.9).

Line graph showing the rate per 100,000 population of website visits to ReachOut for New South Wales, Victoria and the rest of the country (all states and territories other than New South Wales and Victoria) between November 2019 and September 2020. The rate for all 3 jurisdictions shows a similar pattern from November 2019 to February 2020, from a low of between 99.2 and 121.1 in December 2019 before rising to between 210.1 and 240.7 in February 2020. Following this, rates for New South Wales continue to rise to a peak of 417.2 in March then fluctuate widely before reaching 307.0 in September. In Victoria, rates remained stable after February but began to climb in April to peak of 369.3. Rates then fluctuate widely, following a similar pattern to New South Wales, reaching 237.7 in September. In the rest of the country, the rate of website visits peaked at 282.3 in May before declining to 148.1 in June. Rates then rose again to a second peak of 279.8 in August before declining again to 206.7 in September.

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Suspected suicides 

Three states, NSW, Victoria and Queensland, have released data on the total number of suspected suicides since 1 January 2020.

The newly established NSW Suicide Monitoring System reported 673 suspected suicides in NSW from 1 January to 30 September 2020. This is similar to the 672 suspected suicides reported for the same period in 2019  (NSW Government Health 2020).

The total number of suspected suicides in Victoria from 1 January to 31 October 2020 is 580. This is similar to the 600 suspected suicides observed over the same period in 2019 (Coroners Court of Victoria 2020).

There have been 454 suspected suicides in Queensland from 1 January to 31 July 2020. This is similar to the 445 suspected suicides recorded for the same period in 2019 (Leske et al 2020).

References

2019-nCoV NIRST (National Incident Room Surveillance Team) 2020. 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease, Australia Epidemiology Report 1: Reporting week 26 January – 1 February 2020, Communicable Diseases Intelligence, 44. doi:10.33321/cdi.2020.44.13

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2020c. Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 19 September 2020. Viewed 13 October 2020

Coroners Court of Victoria 2020. Monthly Suicide Data Report, Report 2 – 5 October 2020. Viewed 17 November 2020

DoH (Australian Government Department of Health) 2020. Total COVID-19 cases and deaths by states and territories. Viewed 28 October 2020

Leske, S, Adam, G, Schrader, I, Catakovic A, Weir, B, and Crompton, D 2020. Suicide in Queensland: Annual Report 2020. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia: Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention, School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University.

NSW Government Health 2020. NSW Suicide Monitoring System Report 1. October 2020. Viewed 17 November 2020