Hospital emergency services

Hospital emergency departments (EDs) play a role in treating mental illness. For a range of reasons, EDs are often used as an initial point of care by those seeking mental health-related services for the first time, as well as an alternative point of care for people seeking after-hours mental health care ( Morphet et al. 2012 ).

State and territory health authorities collect a core set of nationally comparable information on most public hospital ED presentations in their jurisdiction, which is compiled annually into the National Non-Admitted Patient Emergency Department Care Database (NNAPEDCD). Information about mental health-related services provided in emergency departments was previously supplied direct to the AIHW by states and territories, as the NNAPEDCD has only recently included all of the information required for this section (see data source for more information).

Mental health-related ED presentations in this section are defined as presentations to public hospital EDs that have a principal diagnosis of Mental and behavioural disorders. This definition has a number of limitations. For example, the definition does not fully capture all potentially mental health-related presentations to EDs such as intentional self-harm as intent can be difficult to identify in an ED environment and can also be difficult to code. As a consequence, the data presented in this section are likely to under-report the actual number of mental health-related ED presentations. More details about identifying mental health presentations in the NNAPEDCD are available in the data source section.

Data for the ACT were not available for the 2015–16 reporting period. See the footnotes in each of the tables for details how this impacted on the calculation of national rates.

Data downloads:

Emergency departments 2015–16 tables (96KB XLS)

Emergency departments 2015–16 section (163KB)

Data coverage includes the time period 2006–07 to 2015–16. This section was last updated in October 2017.

Key points

  • There were an estimated 273,439 ED presentations in Australia with a mental health-related principal diagnosis in 2015–16. This equated to 3.7% of all presentations to public hospital emergency departments.
  • More than half (54.2%) of mental health-related ED presentations had a principal diagnosis of either Neurotic, stress-related and somatoform disorders or Mental and behavioural disorders due to psychoactive substance use.
  • 77.5% of mental health-related ED presentations were classified as either semi-urgent (patient should be seen within 60 minutes) or urgent (patient should be seen within 30 minutes).
  • Three in five (60.8%) mental health-related ED presentations were recorded as being resolved without the need for admission or referral. Most of the remaining mental health-related presentations (35.9%) resulted in the patient being admitted to hospital.

Service provision

States and territories

A total of 273,439 public hospital ED presentations with a mental health-related principal diagnosis were reported by states and territories in 2015–16, representing 3.7% of all ED presentations.

Nationally, the rate of mental health-related ED presentations was 116.1 per 10,000 population. The Northern Territory had the highest rate (265.8) and Victoria the lowest (88.7) (Figure ED.1). The observed jurisdictional differences are likely to be due to varying population characteristics, health-care systems and service delivery practices.

Figure ED.1: Mental health-related emergency department presentations in public hospitals, states and territories, 2015–16

Vertical bar chart showing the rate of mental health-related emergency department presentations in public hospitals per 10,000 population by state or territory in 2015–16. NSW had a rate of 127.8 per 10,000 population, Vic 88.7, QLD 118.5, WA 114.5, SA 135.1, Tas 114.5, ACT n.a. and NT 265.8. Refer to Table ED.5

Note:  Data were not available for ACT in 2015–16 and have been excluded from all totals.


Source data Mental health services provided in emergency departments Table ED.5 (96KB XLS).


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