Mental Health Service Activity in New South Wales and Victoria

As at June 2020 New South Wales and Victoria comprised 57.9% of Australia’s population. However, New South Wales and Victoria combined reported 88.7% of Australia’s COVID-19 cases to 24 January 2021 (DoH 2021).

The New South Wales government 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. These restrictions were tightened in December 2020 after an outbreak of COVID-19 in Greater Sydney following a cluster of cases in Sydney’s Northern Beaches (NSW Government Health 2020). In January 2021, New South Wales had the highest rate of website visits per 100,000 population to ReachOut digital health services (74,815 visits, 920 per 100,000 population in the 4 weeks to 24 January 2021).

On 2 August, stage 4 lockdown restrictions began in Melbourne and surrounding Victorian regional areas in an attempt to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases following the start of Victoria’s second wave. Restrictions involved curfews, a limit of how many kilometres from home a person could travel, and on people gathering. Restrictions gradually lifted in Victoria as there were no newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases in the state for 6 weeks from 30 October 2020 to 10 December 2020 (Victorian DHHS 2020). However, they were reintroduced over the New Year period following a cluster of community acquired COVID-19 cases. Over January and February there have been locally acquired cases linked to hotel quarantine, sparking further lockdown restrictions (Victorian DHHS 2021).

MBS mental health services by jurisdiction

In the 4 weeks to 24 January 2021, people in Victoria accessed 210,662 mental health-related MBS services, or 3,147 services per 100,000 population, which is slightly higher than New South Wales (2,709 services per 100,000 population) and the rest of Australia (2,813 contacts per 100,000 population) (Figure COVID.5). The 4 week period with the highest mental health-related MBS service use during the pandemic in Victoria and New South Wales was the 4 weeks to 20 Dec 2020 with 353,866 and 358,353 services respectively (5,286 and 4,389 per 100,000 population respectively). In the 4 weeks to 31 January 2021 services in New South Wales and Victoria increased by 5.1% and 2.1% respectively, from the 4 weeks to 2 February 2020.

FIgure COVID.5: Line chart 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 (i.e. all states and territories excluding New South Wales and Victoria) from March 2020 to January 2021. The rate of services delivered in New South Wales increased from a low of 734 in the week beginning 6 April 2020 to a peak of 1,114 in the week beginning 14 December 2020 before a sharp dip of 240 two weeks later in the week beginning 28 December 2020 followed by a return to typical levels. The rate of services delivered in Victoria has gradually increased from 843 in the week beginning 6 April 2020 to peak at 1,378 in the week beginning 12 October 2020, with a sharp dip of 305 in the week beginning 28 December 2020 followed by a return to typical levels. The rate of services delivered in the rest of the country follows a similar pattern to New South Wales, increasing from 726 in the week beginning 6 April 2020 to peak at 1,085 in the week beginning 9 November 2020 to a sharp dip of 211 in the week beginning 28 December 2020 followed by a return to typical levels.

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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 between March and April 2020, early in the pandemic, followed by a gradual decline through May and June 2020. Victoria experienced another increase in telehealth mental health-related services in July and August 2020 when COVID-19 case numbers began to rise in the state. The proportion of telehealth service use in Victoria has gradually declined since peaking during August–September, but has remained higher than New South Wales and the rest of Australia. The small peak in the proportion of services delivered via telehealth in New South Wales for the week beginning 21 December 2020 corresponds with the start of the three week lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. In the 4 weeks to 24 January 2021, 39.8% of services in Victoria were delivered via telehealth, compared to 21.3% in New South Wales and 14.2% in the rest of Australia.

Figure COVID.6: Line chart 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 (i.e. all states and territories excluding New South Wales and Victoria) from March 2020 to January 2021. The proportion of services delivered via telehealth in New South Wales increased from 3.1% in the week beginning 16 March 2020 to a peak of 48.8% in the week beginning 27 April, with a decline to 20.4% in the week beginning 18 January 2021. The proportion of services delivered via telehealth in Victoria increased from 2.5% in the week beginning 16 March 2020 to a peak of 55.5% in the week beginning 27 April 2020, and following a dip in June, increased to the highest peak at 63.8% in the week beginning 31 August 2020 followed by a gradual decrease to 38.0% in the week beginning 18 January 2021. The proportion of services delivered via telehealth in the rest of the country follows a similar pattern to New South Wales, increasing from 3.0% in the week beginning 16 March 2020 to a peak at 48.8% in the week beginning 13 April 2020 and then gradually decreased to 13.6% in the week beginning 18 January 2021.

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Use of crisis and support organisations and online mental health information services

In the 4 weeks to 24 January 2021, Lifeline answered more than 27,000 calls from New South Wales, the highest volume recorded during the pandemic. This was a 29.6% increase from the 4 weeks to 26 January 2020 and a 46.9% increase from the 4 weeks to 27 January 2019. Victoria (with almost 21,000 answered calls) saw smaller increases of 22.9% and 26.9% from the same respective periods, and the rest of Australia saw respective increases of 18.0% and 37.1%.

In the 4 weeks to 24 January 2021, Kids Helpline answered almost 3,400 contacts from Victoria, an increase of 23.5% from the 4 weeks to 26 January 2020, and a 31.7% increase from the 4 weeks to 27 January 2019. New South Wales (with over 3,800 answered contacts) saw smaller increases of 8.8% and 20.9% from the same respective periods, and the rest of Australia saw respective increases of 23.8% and 33.5%.

Over 4,100 contacts from Victoria were answered by Beyond Blue in the 4 weeks to 24 January 2021 (including the dedicated Beyond Blue COVID-19 Support Service) which is an increase of 46.6% from the 4 weeks to 26 January 2020, and 41.9% from the 4 weeks to 27 January 2019. This is a much greater increase than seen for New South Wales, with almost 4,100 answered contacts, which is 16.9% and 32.2% greater than the respective periods in previous years. Almost 5,300 contacts from the rest of Australia were answered, which is 30.9% and 35.6% greater than the respective periods in previous years (Figure COVID.7).

Figure COVID.7: Table showing answered mental health support organisation contacts in the four weeks to 24 January 2021 and per cent changes from the four weeks to 26 January 2020 and 27 January 2019 for Victoria, New South Wales and the rest of the country (all states and territories not including Victoria and New South Wales). In the 4 weeks to 24 January 2021, Lifeline answered 20,735 contacts from Victoria, 27,634 contacts from New South Wales, and 29,347 contacts from the rest of the country, representing increases of 22.9%, 29.6%, and 18.0% respectively compared to the 4 weeks to 26 January 2020, and 26.9%, 46.9% and 37.1% respectively compared to the 4 weeks to 27 January 2019. In the 4 weeks to 24 January 2021 Kids Helpline answered 3,338 contacts from Victoria, 3,806 contacts from New South Wales, and 5,437 contacts from the rest of the country; and Beyond Blue answered 4,142 contacts from Victoria, 4,061 contacts from New South Wales, and 5,263 contacts from the rest of the country.

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In the 4 weeks to 24 January 2021, 74,815 visits to the ReachOut website originated from New South Wales, an increase of 35.5% from the 4 weeks to 26 January 2020. This compares to 48,394 visits originating from Victoria in the same period, and an increase of 7.2% (Figure COVID.8).

Figure COVID.8: Line chart showing the rate per 100,000 population of weekly website visits to ReachOut from New South Wales, Victoria and the rest of the country (i.e. all states and territories excluding New South Wales and Victoria) from March 2020 to January 2021. The rate of weekly website visits from New South Wales, Victoria and the rest of the country show a similar pattern from March 2020 to January 2021. The rate of ReachOut weekly website visits for New South Wales decreased from a peak of 415.2 in the week beginning 30 March 2020 to a low of 201.7 in the week beginning 6 July 2020, greatly fluctuating January 2021 with a rate of 236.7 services in the week beginning 18 January 2021. The rate of weekly website visits from Victoria decreased from a peak of 370.9 in the week beginning 18 May 2020 to 146.2 in the week beginning 21 December 2020 followed by a gradual increase to 193.9 in the week beginning 18 January 2021. The rate of weekly website visits from the rest of the country decreased from a peak of 280.1 in the week beginning 4 May 2020 to a low of 132.9 in the week beginning 21 December 2020 with a gradual increase to 190.0 in the week beginning 18 January 2021.

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Suspected or confirmed deaths by suicides

New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, have released data on the total number of suspected or confirmed deaths by suicide in 2020.

The total number of suspected or confirmed deaths by suicide in New South Wales in 2020 was 896. This compares to the 943 suspected or confirmed deaths by suicide recorded in 2019 (NSW Government Health 2021).

The total number of suspected or confirmed deaths by suicide in Victoria in 2020 was 698. This compares to the 718 suspected or confirmed deaths by suicide recorded in 2019 (Coroners Court of Victoria 2021).


References

Coroners Court of Victoria 2020. Monthly Suicide Data Report, December 2020 Viewed March 2021.

DoH (Department of Health) 2021. Total COVID-19 cases and deaths by states and territories. Viewed 28 October 2020.

Leske S, Adam G, Schrader I, Catakovic A, Weir B, 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 Health 2020. Latest COVID-19 updates. Viewed 15 February 2021.

NSW Health 2021. NSW Suicide Monitoring System Report 4. January 2021. Viewed 26 February 2021.

Victorian DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) 2020. Coronavirus update for Victoria – 10 February 2021. Viewed 15 February 2021.