Mental health-related prescriptions

This section presents Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) information on prescriptions for mental health-related medications; both subsidised prescriptions and under co-payment prescriptions (that is, prescriptions that cost less than the threshold for subsidy under the PBS). Mental health‑related medications reported in this section comprise Psycholeptics, Antipsychotics, Anxiolytics, Hypnotics and sedatives, Psychoanaleptics, Antidepressants, and Psychostimulants, agents used for Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and nootropics prescribed by all medical practitioners.

For further information on the PBS and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) and the medications covered by these schemes, refer to the data source section. Related data on expenditure on medications subsidised under the PBS and RPBS are presented in the Expenditure section.

From February 2020, a range of restrictions on travel, business, social interaction and border control were introduced to prevent and reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. While this report explores the impact on mental health‑related prescriptions, the AIHW has published a report on the Impacts of COVID‑19 on Medicare Benefits Scheme and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme service use more broadly.

Data downloads:

Mental health-related prescriptions 2019–20 tables (1.2MB XLSX)

Mental health-related prescriptions 2019–20 section (766KB PDF)

Mental health-related prescriptions interactive data

Data source and key concepts related to this section.

Data coverage includes the time period 2005–06 to 2019–20. Data in this section were last updated in May 2021.

Key points

 

  • 40.7 million mental health-related medications (subsidised and under co-payment) were dispensed in 2019–20.

  • 4.4 million patients (17.2% of the Australian population) filled a prescription for a mental health-related medicaton in 2019–20, with an average of 9.2 prescriptions per patient.

  • 61.7% of mental health-related prescriptions filled were subsidised by the PBS/RPBS in 2019–20.

  • 82.7% of mental health-related prescriptions filled were prescribed by GPs; 7.3% prescribed by psychiatrists; 4.6% prescribed by non-psychiatrist specialists in 2019–20.

  • 72.1% of mental health-related prescriptions filled were for Antidepressant medications in 2019–20.

Overview

There were 40.7 million prescriptions filled for mental health-related medications (subsidised and under co-payment)  in Australia in 2019–20. This is equivalent to 1,596.5 mental health-related prescriptions per 1,000 population. These medications were dispensed to 4.4 million patients, which equates to 17.2% of Australians. There was an average of 9.2 prescriptions filled per patient in 2019–20.

Of the 40.7 million mental health related prescriptions, 25.1 million were subsidised under the PBS/RPBS and filled by 2.5 million patients; an average of 10 subsidised prescriptions per patient in 2019–20.

Patient characteristics

More than 1 in 6 Australians (17.2% of the Australian population) filled a mental health-related prescription in 2019–20. Tasmania had the highest proportion of people (22.6% of the population) dispensed with mental health-related medications (subsidised or under co-payment), while New South Wales (16.1%) had the lowest (excluding the Northern Territory – refer to the Note accompanying Figure PBS.1). Victoria (16.4%) and the Australian Capital Territory (16.5%) had similar rates to New South Wales.

Figure PBS.1: People (per cent of the population) dispendenced with mental health-related prescriptions, states and territories, 2019-20.

Bar chart showing the per cent of patients filling mental health-related prescriptions (subsidised and subsidised and under co-payment) by states and territories in 2019–20. New South Wales had 9.3% of the population filling subsidised prescriptions, Vic (9.1%), Qld (10.8%), WA (9.6%), SA (11.6%), Tas (14.2%), ACT (7.0%), NT (4.7%), Australian total (9.7%). When considering subsidised and under co-payment prescriptions: NSW (16.1%), Vic (16.4%), Qld (19.0%), WA (17.9%), SA (19.0%), Tas (22.6%), ACT (16.5%), NT (10.0%), Australia total (17.2%). Refer to Table PBS.2.

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Source data: Mental health-related prescriptions 2019–20 tables (1.2MB XLSX).

The proportion of people filling mental health-related subsidised and under co-payment prescriptions in 2019–20 was lowest for the youngest age groups (0.2% of people aged 0–4 years, 4.3% of people aged 5–11 years and 8.2% of people aged 12–17 years), increasing by age group to 42.1% for people aged 85 years and over (Figure PBS.2). A higher proportion of females filled mental health-related prescriptions than males (20.4% and 14.0% of the respective populations). A greater proportion of people living in Inner regional areas were dispensed with mental health-related medications (21.1% of the Inner regional population), followed by people living in Outer regional areas (18.9%), Major cities (16.4%), Remote (13.5%) and Very remote (7.9%) areas.

Figure PBS.2: People (per cent of the population) dispensed with mental health-related prescription (subisided and  under co-payments), by patient demographics.

Horizontal bar chart showing the per cent of people filling mental health-related prescriptions (subsidised and under co-payment), by patient demographics for 2019–20. Rates were lowest for people aged 0–4 years (0.2% age specific population) gradually increasing to the highest rate for those 85 years and over (42.1%). The proportion of females (20.4%) filling prescriptions was higher than males (14.0%). Rates varied among patient area of usual residence: Major cities (16.4% of the Major City population), Inner regional (21.1%), Outer regional (18.9%), Remote (13.5%) and Very remote (7.9%). Refer to Table PBS. 4.

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Source data: Mental health-related prescriptions 2019–20 tables (1.2MB XLSX)

The population rate for females aged 85 and over filling mental health‑related prescriptions (subsidised and under co‑payment), was higher than all other age groups for all drug types, except for Psychostimulants, agents used for ADHD and nootropics where those aged 12–17 had the highest population rate. A similar pattern was seen in males except the highest population rate for Psychostimulants, agents used for ADHD and nootropics was for those aged 5–11. When comparing males and females, a higher proportion of males were dispensed Psychostimulants, agents used for ADHD and nootropics, while a higher proportion of females were dispensed Anxiolytics, hypnotics and sedatives, and Antidepressants. The rates for Antipsychotics were the same for males and females.

Over time

The proportion of the population filling PBS and RPBS subsidised and under co-payment mental health-related prescriptions has risen from 16.6% in 2015–16 to 17.2% in 2019–20. The proportion of people filling subsidised mental health-related prescriptions has declined by an average of 0.9% per year over the same period, from 10.1% in 2015–16 to 9.7% in 2019–20 (Figure PBS.3). 

Figure PBS.3: People (per cent of population) dispensed with mental health-related prescriptions, 2007-08 to  2019-20.

Line chart showing the rate (per cent of the population) of filled mental health-related subsidised prescriptions, and subsidised and co-payment prescriptions, by year. Rates of subsidised prescriptions have fluctuated from a high of 11.2% (in 2007–08) and a low of 9.6 in 2018–19. Rates for total prescriptions filled (subsidised and under co-payment) are only available from 2012–13 and have been steadily increasing from 15.9% in 2012–13 to 17.2% in 2019–20. Refer to Table PBS.3.

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