Overview of mental health services in Australia

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Overview of mental health services in Australia (175KB)

Mental health services in Australia is an online presentation of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) series of annual mental health reports that describe the activity and characteristics of Australia’s health care and social care services accessed by people with a mental illness. This report provides the most recent data available on the national response of the health and welfare system to the mental health care needs of Australians.

The information in this report is constrained by the availability of comparable national data, which may result in some data overlaps and gaps in service information. As well as the data presented in the various webpages, readers can find detailed data for current and previous years in the Microsoft ® Excel workbooks attached to each section. Data are progressively published as it becomes available throughout the year.

Australia's mental health system

There is a division of roles and responsibilities Australia’s mental health system with services being delivered and/or funded by the Australian Government, state and territory governments and the private and non-government sectors.

State and territory governments fund and deliver public sector mental health services that provide specialist care for people with severe mental illness. These include specialised mental health care delivered in public acute and psychiatric hospital settings, state and territory specialised community mental health care services, and state and territory specialised residential mental health care services. In addition, states and territories provide other mental health-specific services in community settings such as supported accommodation and social housing programs.

The Australian Government funds a range of mental health-related services through the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)/Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS). The Australian Government also funds a range of mainstream programs and services which provide essential support for people with mental illness. These include income support, social and community support, disability services, workforce participation programs, and housing assistance.

Private sector services include admitted patient care in a private psychiatric hospital and private services provided by psychiatrists, psychologists and other allied health professionals. Private health insurance funds treatment costs in private hospitals, public hospitals and out of hospital services provided by health professionals.   

Mental health non-government organisations are private organisations (both not-for-profit and for-profit) that receive government and/or private funding. Generally, these services focus on providing well-being, support and assistance to people who live with a mental illness rather than the assessment, diagnostic and treatment tasks undertaken by clinically focused services.

Service access

The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing collected data on mental health service access in the preceding 12 months. From this survey it was estimated that about a third (35%) of people with a 12-month mental disorder (about 1.3 million people based on the estimated 2017 population) made use of mental health services (Slade et al. 2009). Of these:

  • 71% consulted a general practitioner
  • 38% consulted a psychologist
  • 23% consulted a psychiatrist.

Of those who did not receive mental health care, the majority (86%) reported that they perceived having no need for any mental health care. More recent estimates suggest that the treatment rates identified in 2007 have increased (to 46% in 2009-10), due primarily to the introduction of government subsidised mental health treatment items to Medicare (Whiteford et al. 2014).

Service providers

Mental health‑related services are provided in Australia in a variety of ways, including:

  • admitted patient care in hospital and other residential care
  • hospital‑based outpatient services
  • community mental health care services
  • consultations with both specialist medical practitioners and general practitioners (GPs).

Access to psychologists and other allied health providers may, dependent on eligibility, be subsidised through initiatives such as the Better Access initiative which gives patients Medicare-subsidised access to psychologists and other allied health providers after the preparation of a Mental Health Treatment Plan by a GP.

The Australian Government also subsidises mental health-related services through Primary Health Networks, headspace, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the MBS and prescribed medications through the PBS and RPBS. State and territory governments fund and deliver services and assist with broader needs, such as accommodation support.

No standard definition exists for ‘mental health‑related service’. Information about how specific mental health‑related services are defined is available in relevant sections of this report.


ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2008. National survey of mental health and wellbeing: summary of results, Australia, 2007. ABS cat. no. 4326.0. Canberra: ABS.

Slade T, Johnston A, Teesson M, Whiteford H, Burgess P, Pirkis J, and Saw S. (2009) The Mental Health of Australians 2. Report on the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra.

Whiteford HA, Buckingham WJ, Harris MG, Burgess PM, Pirkis JE, Barendregt JJ et al. 2014. Estimating treatment rates for mental disorders in Australia. Australian Health Review 38:80-5.