The latest National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted in 2007 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS 2008a) estimates that 3.2 million Australians, or 20%, of the adult population experienced symptoms of a mental disorder in the 12 months before the survey. This report on Australian mental health services provides detailed information on the national response to the mental health care needs of Australians using a range of AIHW and other data sources.

Service provision

  • Overall, services for people with mental health care needs continue to show a steady increase, generally above the rate of population growth.
  • General practitioners (GPs) are often a first contact point for mental health concerns. In 2008-09, the Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health survey of general practice activity estimated that over 13.2 million GP-patient encounters involved management of a mental health issue, an increase on average of 5.7% each year from 2004-05.
  • In 2008-09, there were about 4.6 million Medicare claims for subsidised psychiatrist, psychologist and other mental health-related allied health services, compared with 3.9 million claims in 2007-08, an increase of 17.4%. This sustained growth reflects the continuing uptake of the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and GPs through the Medicare Benefits Schedule initiative introduced in November 2006. Mental health-specific GP service items constituted another 1.6 million claims made in 2008-09.
  • Community mental health care services and hospital outpatient services also provide care for mental health consumers, with close to 6.4 million service contacts in 2007-08, a 6.8% increase from 2006-07.
  • Mental health care is provided to admitted patients in public acute, public psychiatric and private hospitals. In 2007-08, there were nearly 213,000 mental health-related separations for admitted patients, compared with about 209,000 separations in 2006-07, an increase of 1.7%.

Expenditure and resources

  • In 2007-08, there were 16 public psychiatric hospitals with 2,156 beds (an average annual decrease of 2.0% from 2003-04), and 141 public acute hospitals with a specialised psychiatric unit or ward with 4,395 beds (an average annual increase of 4.0%). A clear trend can be seen in the provision of public sector specialised mental health hospital beds, with beds in specialised psychiatric units or wards within public acute hospitals replacing beds in public psychiatric hospitals.
  • Expenditure on state and territory mental health services increased by an annual average of 5.9% (adjusted for inflation) between 2003-04 and 2007-08, to $3,323 million. Public acute hospitals with specialised psychiatric wards and community mental health care services reported annual average increases in expenditure of 7.7% and 7.0% respectively. At the same time, public psychiatric hospital expenditure decreased by 1.2% per year, again reflecting the transfer of mental health beds to specialised psychiatric units or wards within public acute hospitals.
  • In 2008-09, the Australian Government paid $666 million in benefits for Medicare-subsidised mental health-related services provided by psychiatrists, GPs, psychologists and other allied health professionals. Nationally, Medicare benefits paid for these services averaged $30.78 per person. Between 2004-05 and 2008-09, Australian Government expenditure on MBS mental health-related items increased by an annual average of 26.8%, reflecting, in part, the introduction of items for psychologists during that period.
  • In 2008-09, 21.4 million mental health-related prescriptions subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme cost the Australian Government over $742 million. They comprised mainly antipsychotics (51%) and antidepressants (41%) and accounted for over 1 in 10 of all prescription claims.