Prescriptions

States and territories

The Australian Capital Territory (684.9 subsidised prescriptions per 1,000 population) had the lowest rate of mental health-related prescriptions filled for subsidised prescriptions, while New South Wales (1,456.8 subsidised and under co-payment prescriptions per 1,000 population) had the lowest rate of subsidised and under co-payment prescriptions filled in 2019–20 (with the exception of the Northern Territory; see Figure PBS.4, and the associated note). Tasmania had the highest rate of prescriptions filled (1,449.9 subsidised and 2,169.3 subsidised and under co-payment prescriptions per 1,000 population). These patterns were similar to the patient rates (see Figure PBS.1).

Figure PBS.4: Mental health-related prescriptions (per 1,000 population), by states and territories 2019-20.

Bar chart showing rate of mental health-related prescriptions filled (subsidised and under co-payment) per 1,000 population by jurisdiction in 2019–20. Subsidised prescription rates: NSW (916.5), Vic (931.5), Qld (1,086.6), WA (946.1), SA (1,177.9), Tas (1,449.9), ACT (684.9), NT (422.6), National total (985.3). Subsidised and under co-payment prescription rates: NSW (1,456.8), Vic (1,531.2), Qld (1,756.7), WA (1,621.0), SA (1,777.5), Tas (2,169.3), ACT (1,479.4), and NT (809.3), National total (1,596.5). Refer to Table PBS.11.

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

Prescription characteristics

Of the 40.7 million mental health-related medications (subsidised and under co-payment) dispensed in 2019–20, the majority (82.7%) were prescribed by general practitioners (GPs), with another 7.3% prescribed by psychiatrists and 4.6% by non-psychiatrist specialists. These proportions were similar for subsidised prescriptions.

The majority of subsidised and under co-payment mental health-related prescriptions filled were for Antidepressants (72.1%, or 29.4 million) in 2019–20, followed by Antipsychotics (10.4%), Anxiolytics (8.4%), Hypnotics and sedatives (5.0%) and Psychostimulants, agents used for ADHD and nootropics (4.1%) (Figure PBS.5). Among the categories of medications, the majority of prescriptions were issued by GPs, except for Psychostimulants, agents used for ADHD and nootropics. Similar patterns were observed for subsidised prescriptions.

FIgure PBS.5: Mental health-related prescriptions (subsidised and under co-payment), by type of medication and prescribing medical practitioner, 2019-20.

horizontal bar chart showing the number of mental health-related prescriptions filled (subsidised & under co-payment), by ATC group of medication and prescribing medical practitioner, 2019–20. Antidepressants were prescribed by: GPs (25.8 million), non-psychiatrist specialists (0.8), psychiatrists (1.6). Antipsychotics: 2.8, 0.1, 0.7. Anxiolytics: 3.0, 0.1, 0.2. Hypnotics and sedatives: 1.8, 0.1, 0.05 Psychostimulants, agents used for ADHD and nootropics: 0.3, 0.9, 0.5. Refer to Table PBS.11.

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

Antidepressants and Antipsychotics had the highest average number of subsidised and under co-payment prescriptions filled per patient (8.8 and 8.7, respectively) in 2019–20. Psychostimulants, agents used for ADHD and nootropics had the least number of prescriptions filled, but had the third highest rate of prescriptions filled per patient (7.1). A similar pattern was observed for subsidised prescriptions.

Females had a higher rate of subsidised and under co-payment mental health-related prescriptions filled (1,901.0 per 1,000 population) than males (1,262.9) in 2019–20. However males and females filled a similar number of scripts per patient, averaging 9.0 for males and 9.3 for females.

Over time

For the period 2015–16 to 2019–20, the rate (per 1,000 population) of subsidised and under co-payment mental health-related prescriptions being filled increased from 1,487.7 to 1,596.5, an average annual increase of 1.8%. In contrast, the rate of PBS and RPBS subsidised prescriptions being filled decreased over the same period from 1,001.6 to 985.3 per 1,000 population, an average annual decrease of 0.4% (Figure PBS.6). The same pattern in seen for patients filling mental health-related prescriptions. This is partly due to price reductions on medications no longer under patent. More information about this is available in the Expenditure on mental health-related services section.

Figure PBS.6: Rate (per 1,000 population) of  mental health-related prescriptions 2004-05 to 2019-20.

Line chart showing the rate of mental health-related prescriptions filled (subsidised and subsidised and co-payment per 1,000 population between 2006–07 and 2019–20. Rates of subsidised prescriptions: 988.8 for 2006–07, 984.3 for 2008–09, 1,036.7 for 2010–11, 1,045.9 for 2012–13, 1,018.8 for 2014–15, 982.6 for 2016–17, 971.9 for 2018–19 and 985.3 for 2019–20. Rates for subsidised and co-payment prescriptions: 1,378.5 for 2012–13, 1,424.6 for 2013–14, 1,456.3 for 2014–15, 1,487.7 for 2015–16, 1,506.1 for 2016–17, 1,524.0 for 2017–18, 1,548.9 for 2018–19 and 1,596.5 for 2019–20. Refer to Table PBS.12.

Visualisation not available for printing

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

Between 2015–16 and 2019–20, the rate (per 1,000 population) of mental health-related subsidised and under co-payment prescriptions filled decreased from 156.6 to 133.6 for Anxiolytics and from 103.2 to 79.6 for Hypnotics and sedatives, an average annual decrease of 3.9% and 6.3% respectively. Conversely, the prescription rates have increased over the same period of time from 163.1 to 166.1 for Antipsychotics; from 1020.9 to 1151.4 for Antidepressants; and from 44.0 to 65.8 for Psychostimulants, agents used for ADHD and nootropics, an average annual increase of 0.5%, 3.1% and 10.6% respectively.

Prescriptions during COVID-19 pandemic

Analyses of prescriptions for mental health‑related medications by quarter have been included to show seasonal variations in medication dispensed, and provide more insight into the impact of events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. These include service and person counts disaggregated by medication type, age group and sex (Tables PBS.8–9, PBS.18–19).

Between 2018–19 and 2019–20, the January to March quarter had the highest percentage increase in both the total prescriptions filled and the patients dispensed one or more subsidised and under co-payment mental health-related medications. This is consistent with the general trend seen across the PBS, with a 23.1% increase in the number of medications dispensed in March 2020 compared with March 2019 (AIHW, 2020).

Regional reporting

Information on subsidised and under co-payment mental health-related prescriptions can also be reported at the sub-jurisdictional level, within state and territory boundaries.

Sub-jurisdictional data for 2019–20 are included with the data downloads for this section (Table PBS.20, Table PBS.21, Table PBS.22 and Table PBS.23). This data shows variation in the number and rate of prescriptions and patients across Australia’s 31 Primary Health Network (PHN) areas, as well as at the Statistical Area 3 (SA3) region level. For the analysis presented here, geographical area is based on the patient's residential address, or, if the patient’s address is unknown, the location of the supplying pharmacy is used.

The Tasmanian Central Highlands SA3 region had the highest rate of subsidised and under co-payment mental health-related medications dispensed in 2019–20 (2,765.3 per 1,000 of the population), followed by the North West Hobart SA3 region (2,673.7), while Christmas Island and East Arnhem had the lowest rate of medications dispensed (240.9 and 281.3 of the respective populations).

The Tasmanian Central Highlands SA3 region had the highest rate of patients filling subsidised and under co-payment mental health-related prescriptions in 2019–20 (28.3% of the population), followed by the Tasmanian South East Coast and North West Hobart SA3 regions in Tasmania (26.8% and 26.2% of the respective populations), while East Arnhem and Christmas Island had the lowest rates of patients filling prescriptions (3.6% and 4.0% of the respective populations).