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Overview of mental health services (207KB)

Australia's mental health system

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.

Service access

The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing collected data on mental health service access in the preceding 12 months. It was estimated that about a third (35%) of people with a 12-month mental disorder (1.1 million people) 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 evidence suggests that the treatment rates found in 2007 have increased (to an estimated 46%), 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 specialists 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 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.

National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (NSMHWB)

Mental illness comprises a wide range of disorders and varies in its severity. The effect of mental illness can be severe on the individuals and families concerned and its influence is far-reaching for society as a whole. Social problems commonly associated with mental illness include poverty, unemployment or reduced productivity and homelessness. Those with mental illness often experience problems such as isolation, discrimination and stigma.

A program of population surveys, the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (NSMHWB), began in Australia in the late 1990s. These surveys provide evidence on the prevalence of mental illness in the Australian population, the amount of disability associated with mental disorders and the use of health services by people with mental disorders.

These studies have 3 main components—a population-based survey of adults, a service-based survey of people with psychotic disorders, and a population-based survey of children.

  1. National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (2007) (ABS 2008 ) : 7.3 million or 45% of Australians aged 16–85 will experience a common mental health disorder (e.g. depression, anxiety or a substance use disorder) in their lifetime.
  2. National Survey of Psychotic Illness (2010) : almost 64,000 people have a psychotic illness and are in contact with public specialised mental health services each year.
  3. Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (Young Minds Matter) (2015) 560,000 child and adolescents aged 4–17 (about 14%) experienced mental health disorders in 2012–13.



Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 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.