Mental health workforce

A number of different health care and community welfare professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, general practitioners and social workers, provide a range of mental health-related services to Australians. The workforce data for this section is sourced from the National Health Workforce Data Set (NHWDS), which comprises data about employed health professionals collected through annual registration surveys administered by the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA) since 2010. For further details on the NHWDS and survey arrangements prior to July 2010 see the data source section. Data on the size and selected characteristics of the workforce is available for the following health care professionals who work principally in mental health care and related areas:

  • psychiatrists
  • mental health nurses
  • registered psychologists.

For a different view of the workforce employed by specialised mental health care facilities see the facilities section.

The number of psychiatrists, mental health nurses and registered psychologists, the average total hours and clinical hours worked are reported in this section. To provide a meaningful comparison, full-time-equivalent (FTE) and clinical FTE figures have been reported. The FTE measures the number of standard hour week workloads completed, regardless of full-time or part-time working hours. A standard working week is defined as 38 hours for mental health nurses and registered psychologists and 40 hours for psychiatrists.

This is the first year that clinical FTE figures and average clinical hours worked have been reported in this section, where previously only total FTE and average total hours worked have been reported. These clinical FTE figures provide measures of the time psychiatrists, mental health nurses and registered psychologists spent working in a direct clinical role.

Data downloads:

Mental health workforce 2015 tables (1.54MB XLS)

Mental health workforce 2015 section (389KB)

Data coverage includes the time period 2006–07 to 2014–15. This section was last updated in June 2017.

Key points

  • In 2015, there were an estimated 3,131 psychiatrists, 20,834 mental health nurses and 24,522 registered psychologists in Australia. This equates to 12.7 FTE psychiatrists, 84.2 FTE mental health nurses and 88.0 FTE registered psychologists per 100,000 population.
  • In 2015, there were 10.5 clinical FTE psychiatrists, 77.2 clinical FTE mental health nurses and 63.9 clinical FTE registered psychologists per 100,000 population.
  • In 2015, about one-third (31.1%) of mental health nurses were male, compared to around 1 in 10 of the general nursing workforce. About 3 in 5 psychiatrists (62.3%) and one-fifth (21.8%) of registered psychologists were male.
  • In 2015, 43.9% of psychiatrists and 31.9% of mental health nurses were aged 55 and older. The age profile of registered psychologists was younger, with 72.1% younger than 55.

Community-managed mental health workforce

Non-government organisations (NGOs) play an important role in Australia's mental health system. Mental health NGOs are private organisations that receive funding from Australian governments to provide mental health services to people with mental health conditions, their families and carers, and the broader community. NGOs are typically not-for-profit, but some are for-profit. Not-for-profit organisations are also called community-managed organisations (CMOs), reflecting their governance structure.

Estimating the size of the mental health NGO workforce is difficult. A 2009 national mental health NGO landscape survey and a 2010 workforce scoping survey provide some data about the mental health NGO workforce (NHWPRC 2011).

These surveys estimated that there are approximately 800 mental health NGOs in Australia with a total workforce in excess of 12,000 FTE employees. Findings indicate that 43% of the workforce have a bachelor degree or higher qualification in one of the health disciplines and 34% have a certificate or diploma level qualification. Survey findings also suggest that a large majority (84%) of mental health NGO organisations operate in only one state or territory, with almost 1 in 10 (9%) operating nationally. Over 2 in 5 organisations (42%) had been in operation for over 20 years.

Care should be taken when interpreting these findings due to coverage issues with both surveys. The landscape survey coverage was estimated at 34% of the sector and the workforce scoping survey was a pilot study which covered approximately 5% of the workforce. Low coverage of the sector in these information sources may mean that the findings may be true for the respondents but not generalisable to the whole sector.