Mental health workforce

Key points

  • There were 3,769 psychiatrists, 24,567 mental health nurses, 31,618 psychologists and 2,555 mental health occupational therapists working in Australia in 2020.
  • The paid lived experience workforce in specialised mental health care facilities has grown at an average annual rate of 15.9% from 2015–16 to 2019–20.

How many specialist mental health workers are employed in Australia?

Figure WK.1, Four maps of Australia showing the number and rate per 100,000 population of psychiatrists, mental health nurses, psychologists and mental health occupational therapists by state or territory, remoteness area, Primary Health Network (PHN) or Statistical Area 4 (SA4). The Australian Capital Territory has a substantially higher rate of psychologists than other jurisdictions (202.7). All four professions are found at the highest rate in Major cities across all states and territories, with the exception of mental health nurses, who are found at a higher rate in Inner Regional areas of New South Wales (99.3) than in Major cities in New South Wales (94.8). The PHN with the highest rate of psychiatrists is Brisbane North (25.9). The SA4 with the rightest rates of mental health occupational therapists are Perth – Inner (47.0) followed by Townsville (26.8).

Notes:
1. The number for each variable may not sum to the total due to the estimation process, rounding, not stated/missing data and/or confidentialisation.
2. Crude rate is based on the Australian estimated resident population as at 30 June 2020 for State or territory, PHN and SA4, and 30 June 2016 for Remoteness area.

Mental health workers may be employed in a wide variety of settings, including state-run health services, private or not-for-profit care providers, and/or private practice. Each state and territory has a mental health workforce plan (Cleary, Thomas and Boyle 2020), intended to guide and support the development of the mental health workforce to ensure it meets the needs of residents. A 10-year national mental health workforce strategy is currently under development and expected to be released in 2022. For further information, refer to the National Mental Health Workforce Strategy Taskforce site.

Data downloads:

XLS DownloadMental health workforce 2020 tables (288KB XLSX)

Mental health workforce 2020 section (639KB PDF)

Data source and key concepts related to this section.

Data in this section were last updated in July 2022.

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Specialist workers

This section provides data on the number of psychiatrists, mental health nurses, psychologists and mental health occupational therapists who are employed in Australia. These professions are regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and national boards, which enforces registration standards and legally protect these titles.

In 2020, there were 3,769 psychiatrists, 24,567 mental health nurses, 31,618 psychologists and 2,555 mental health occupational therapists working in Australia.

The total number of psychiatrists grew at an average annual rate of 3.8% from 2016 to 2020, compared to 3.6% for the whole medical profession. Notably, the number of psychiatrists aged 20–34 increased by a much higher rate of 26.9% (Males – 21.7%, Females – 33.4%) over this time period (Figure WK.2.1). Additionally, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) reported that 316 trainees had commenced their Fellowship program between February 2020 to February 2021, an increase of 52 from 2019. Just over half (54.0%) of trainees were aged 31 to 40 (RANZCP 2021a).

In 2020, the majority of psychiatrists (58.4%) were male, although the number of female psychiatrists has increased at more than double the average annual rate from 2016 to 2020 than male (6.1% and 2.3%, respectively). The other three professions were overwhelmingly female, comprising 71.0% of the mental health nurse workforce, 79.7% of the psychologist workforce and 84.9% of the mental health occupational therapist workforce (Figure WK.2.2).

Figure WK.2: Specialist mental health workers, number, by age group, sex, year, 2013–2020

Figure WK.2.1, a line chart showing the number of people working in each profession by sex and age group from 2013 to 2020. In 2020, the most numerous age group for psychiatrists was 45–54, mental health nurses 20–34, psychologists 35–44, mental health occupational therapists 20–34.

Figure WK.2.2, a horizontal butterfly bar chart showing the number of each profession in each age group by sex and year. In 2020, the largest group of psychiatrists are males aged 45–54 (667), mental health nurses, females aged 20–34 (4,614), psychologists females aged 35–44 (7,391), mental health occupational therapists females aged 20–34 (940).

Notes:
1. The number for each variable may not sum to the total due to the estimation process, rounding, not stated/missing data and/or confidentialisation.

Source: Mental health workforce 2020 tables (288KB XLSX), WK.1, WK.4, WK.7, WK.10

The rate (per 100,000 population) of mental health nurses employed in Remote areas of the Northern Territory (125.6) was higher than those employed in Major cities in New South Wales (94.8) or Victoria (115.4). Overall though, all 4 professions tend to be concentrated in Major cities, with lower rates of workers per 100,000 population in Remote and Very remote areas (Figure WK.1). On average, workers in Remote and Very remote areas work more hours per week than their counterparts in Major cities.

According to the Psychology Board of Australia, 13,662 psychologists held an area of practice endorsement in 2020. The most common was Clinical psychology, accounting for 10,328, or 70.1%, of total endorsements (Psychology Board of Australia 2021a). More than two in five psychologists (42.1%) were employed in either solo or group private practice, while 1 in 10 are employed in schools.

The mental health occupation therapist workforce was the fastest growing of the four professions presented here, growing at an average annual rate of 7.3% from 2016 to 2020. This compares to 3.8% for psychiatrists, 3.3% for mental health nurses and 5.8% for psychologists.

Generalist workers

A large number of different professions and roles may be included under the broad category of generalist mental health workers. The availability of data varies considerably depending on the accreditation framework of each role. Selected examples are presented here:

Lived experience workers

Lived experience workers, also known as peer or consumer workers, are increasingly recognised as forming a vital component of mental health care. Lived experience workers also include informal carers – family members, friends or others who care for those experiencing mental illness outside of an employment or volunteer setting.

Expanding the lived experience workforce as a proportion of the overall mental health workforce is an indicator under The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan (DoH 2017). The National Mental Health Commission has released guidelines to support the development of a national lived experience workforce (Byrne et al. 2021).

Because of the broad scope and often informal nature of lived experience workers’ engagement with the mental health care sector, there are little reliable data on the total number of lived experience workers in Australia. An exception is specialised mental health care facilities. In 2019–20, 48.9% of these facilities employed consumer workers while 23.8% employed carer workers (AIHW 2022b). Nationally, 216.2 FTE paid consumer workers and 77.8 FTE paid carer workers were employed in these facilities (Productivity Commission 2022), though numbers varied greatly between states and territories (Figure WK.3). The number of consumer workers increased by an average of 15.9% per year from 2015–16 to 2019–20, while the number of carer workers increased by an average of 13.3% per year. For further information, refer to the Specialised mental health care facilities section.

Figure WK.3: Consumer and carer workers, FTE and rate, states and territories, 2010–11 to 2019–20

Figure WK.3, s line chart showing the Full Time Equivalent (FTE), rate per 1,000 paid direct care staff and rate per 100,000 population of consumer and career workers in each state and territory from 2010–11 to 2019–20. Queensland had the highest FTE of consumer and carer workers of any jurisdiction in 2019–20 (109.3). The Northern Territory has the highest rate of consumer workers per 100,000 population from 2017–18 (5.4) to 2019–20 (5.6). The Australian Capital Territory had the highest rate of carer workers in 2019–20 (0.6).

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Notes:
1. Crude rate is based on the Australian estimated resident population as at 30 June 2020.

Source: XLS DownloadMental health workforce 2020 tables (288KB XLSX), WK.13

The Mental Health Commission of New South Wales also publishes some data on the peer and carer workforce engaged in that states’ mental health service system. In 2018, there were 100 FTE peer workers employed in NSW public mental health services (MHCNSW 2018).