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Report on Government Services 2021


13 Services for mental health

This section is presented in a new online format. Dynamic data visualisations replace the static chapter format used in previous editions. Machine readable data are also available for download. A guide is available on accessing information in the new format.

Impact of COVID-19 on data for the Services for mental health section

COVID-19 may affect data in this report in a number of ways. This includes in respect of actual performance (that is, the impact of COVID-19 on service delivery in 2020 which is reflected in the data results), and the collection and processing of data (that is, the ability of data providers to undertake data collection and process results for inclusion in the report).

For the Services for mental health section, there has been some impact on the data that is attributable to COVID-19. These impacts are primarily due to the introduction of new items relating to telehealth and additional individual psychological therapy sessions in 2019-20 Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) data.

This section reports on the Australian, State and Territory governments’ management of mental health and mental illnesses. Performance reporting focuses on State and Territory governments’ specialised mental health services, and services for mental health subsidised under the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) (provided by General Practitioners (GPs), psychiatrists, psychologists and other allied health professionals).

The Indicator Results tab uses data from the data tables to provide information on the performance for each indicator in the Indicator Framework. The same data are also available in CSV format.

Skip to downloadable Services for mental health data tables and supporting material

  • Context
  • Indicator Framework
  • Indicator Results
  • Indigenous Data

Objectives for services for mental health

Services for mental health aim to:

  • promote mental health and wellbeing, and where possible prevent the development of mental health problems, mental illness and suicide, and
  • when mental health problems and illness do occur, reduce the impact (including the effects of stigma and discrimination), promote recovery and physical health and encourage meaningful participation in society, by providing services that:
    • are high quality, safe and responsive to consumer and carer goals
    • facilitate early detection of mental health issues and mental illness, followed by appropriate intervention
    • are coordinated and provide continuity of care
    • are timely, affordable and readily available to those who need them
    • are sustainable.

Governments aim for services for mental health to meet these objectives in an equitable and efficient manner.

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Service overview

Mental health relates to an individual’s ability to negotiate the daily challenges and social interactions of life without experiencing undue emotional or behavioural incapacity (DHAC 1999). The World Health Organization describes positive mental health as:

… a state of well‑being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community (WHO 2001).

Mental illness is a term that describes a diverse range of behavioural and psychological conditions. These conditions can affect an individual’s mental health, functioning and quality of life. Each mental illness is unique in its incidence across the lifespan, causal factors and treatments.

There are a range of services provided or funded by Australian, State and Territory governments that are specifically designed to meet the needs of people with mental health issues; the key services are:

  • MBS subsidised mental health specific services that are partially or fully funded under Medicare on a fee-for-service basis and are provided by GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists or other allied health professionals under specific mental health items.
  • State and Territory government specialised mental health services (treating mostly low prevalence, but severe, mental illnesses), which include:
    • Admitted patient care in public hospitals — specialised services provided to inpatients in stand-alone psychiatric hospitals or psychiatric units in general acute hospitals1.
    • Community-based public mental health services, comprising:
      • ambulatory care services and other services dedicated to assessment, treatment, rehabilitation and care, and
      • residential services that provide beds in the community, staffed onsite by mental health professionals.
  • Not for profit, non-government organisation (NGO) services, funded by the Australian, State and Territory governments focused on providing well-being, support and assistance to people who live with a mental illness.
  • The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which began full roll out in July 20162. People with a psychiatric disability who have significant and permanent functional impairment are eligible to access funding through the NDIS. In addition, people with a disability other than a psychiatric disability, may also be eligible for funding for mental health-related services and support if required.
There are also other services (for example, specialist homelessness services) provided and/or funded by governments that make a significant contribution to the mental health treatment of people with a mental illness, but are not specialised or specific services for mental health Information on these services can be found in Mental Health Services in Australia (AIHW 2020a).
  1. Whilst not a State and Territory government specialised mental health service, this section also reports on emergency department presentations for mental health related care needs (where data are available). Locate Footnote 1 above
  2. For further information on the NDIS and its implementation see Locate Footnote 2 above

Roles and responsibilities

State and Territory governments are responsible for the funding, delivery and/or management of specialised services for mental health including inpatient/admitted care in hospitals, community-based ambulatory care and community-based residential care.

The Australian Government is responsible for the oversight and funding of a range of services for mental health and programs that are primarily provided or delivered by private practitioners or NGOs. These services and programs include MBS subsidised services provided by GPs (under both general and specific mental health items), private psychiatrists and other allied mental health professionals, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) funded mental health related medications and other programs designed to prevent suicide or increase the level of social support and community-based care for people with a mental illness and their carers. The Australian Government also funds State and Territory governments for health services, most recently through the approaches specified in the National Health Reform Agreement (NHRA) which includes a mental health component.

A number of national initiatives and nationally agreed strategies and plans underpin the delivery and monitoring of services for mental health in Australia including:

  • the Mental Health Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (Australian Health Ministers 1991)
  • the National Mental Health Policy 2008 (DoH 2009)
  • the National Mental Health Strategy (DoH 2014)
  • five-yearly National Mental Health Plans, with the most recent ― the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan — endorsed in August 2017 (COAG 2017).


Nationally, real government recurrent expenditure of around $10.0 billion was allocated to services for mental health in 2018‑19, equivalent to $397.02 per person in the population (table 13A.1 and figure 13.1). State and Territory governments made the largest contribution ($6.4 billion or 64.0 per cent, which includes Australian Government funding under the NHRA), with Australian Government expenditure of $3.6 billion (table 13A.1).

Expenditure on MBS subsidised services was the largest component of Australian Government expenditure on services for mental health in 2018‑19 ($1.3 billion or 35.9 per cent) (table 13A.2). This comprised MBS payments for psychologists and other allied health professionals (17.1 per cent), consultant psychiatrists (10.3 per cent) and GP services (8.5 per cent) (table 13A.2). Another significant area of Australian Government expenditure on services for mental health in 2018‑19 was expenditure under the PBS for mental health related medications ($517.9 million) (table 13A.2).

Nationally, expenditure on admitted patient services is the largest component of State and Territory governments’ expenditure on specialised mental health services ($2.8 billion or 43.8 per cent) in 2018‑19 followed by expenditure on community-based ambulatory services ($2.4 billion or 37.9 per cent) (table 13A.3). State and Territory governments’ expenditure on specialised mental health services, by source of funds and depreciation (which is excluded from reporting) are in tables 13A.4 and 13A.5 respectively.

Size and scope

In 2018‑19, 1.9 per cent and 11.0 per cent of the total population received State and Territory governments’ specialised mental health services and MBS/Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) services, respectively (figure 13.2). While the proportion of the population using State and Territory governments’ specialised mental health services has remained relatively constant, the proportion using MBS/DVA services has increased steadily over time from 6.4 per cent in 2009‑10 to 11.0 per cent in 2018‑19 (table 13A.7). Much of this growth has come from greater utilisation of GP mental health-specific services (from 4.8 per cent to 9.0 per cent) and other allied health services (2.0 per cent to 3.4 per cent) over that period (table 13A.7).

Information on the proportion of new consumers who accessed State and Territory governments’ specialised and MBS subsidised services for mental health are available in tables 13A.8–9.

MBS subsidised services for mental health

In 2018‑19, 8.4 million MBS subsidised services for mental health were provided by; psychologists (5.5 million), psychiatrists (2.5 million) and other allied health professionals (0.5 million). Service usage rates varied across states and territories (table 13A.10).

A further 3.7 million MBS subsidised specific services for mental health were provided by GPs (table 13A.10). GPs are often the first service accessed by people seeking help when suffering from a mental illness (AIHW 2020a). They can diagnose, manage and treat mental illnesses and refer patients to more specialised service providers. A 2019 report from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners found that mental health issues are the most common single reason patients are visiting their GP (RACGP 2019). Data from the now decommissioned Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) survey of general practice activity showed an estimated 18.0 million GP visits in 2016‑17 included management of mental health related problems (12.4 per cent of all GP encounters) (table 13A.11).

State and Territory governments’ specialised mental health services

Across states and territories, the mix of admitted patient and community-based services and care types can differ. As the unit of activity varies across these three service types, service mix differences can be partly understood by considering items which have comparable measurement such as expenditure (table 13A.3), numbers of full time equivalent (FTE) direct care staff (table 13A.12), accrued mental health patient days (table 13A.13) and mental health beds (table 13A.14).

Additional data are also available on the most common principal diagnosis for admitted patients, community-based ambulatory contacts by age group and specialised mental health care by Indigenous status in Mental Health Services in Australia (AIHW 2020a).

National Disability Insurance Scheme

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provides support to people with a significant and enduring primary psychosocial disability. In 2019‑20, there were 37 795 NDIS participants (active with an approved plan) with a psychosocial disability (10.0 per cent of all participants) (NDIA 2020).

Nationally in 2019‑20, payments for active participants (with an approved plan) for people with a primary disability of psychosocial disability totalled $1.2 billion (table 13A.15).


ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics), 2020, Causes of Death, Australia, 2019, Cat. no. 3303.0, Canberra.

—— 2012, Information Paper: Use of the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale in ABS Health Surveys , Australia, 2007‑08, Cat. no. 4817.0.55.001, Canberra.

Australian Health Ministers 1991, Mental Health Statement of Rights and Responsibilities , Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2020a, Mental Health Services in Australia Online (accessed 12 October 2020).

—— 2020b, National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2019 , Drug statistics series no. 32, Cat. no. PHE 270, Canberra.

COAG (Council of Australian Governments) 2017, The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan (the Fifth Plan) , (accessed 18 October 2018).

DoH (Department of Health) 2014, National mental health strategy , (accessed 17 December 2019).

—— 2009, National mental health policy 2008 , (accessed 16 October 2019).

DHAC (Australian Government Department of Health and Community Services) and AIHW 1999, National Health Priority Areas Report: Mental Health 1998 , AIHW Cat. no. PHE 13, Canberra.

Lawrence, D., Johnson, S., Hafekost, J., Boterhoven, K., Sawyer, M., Ainley, J., Zubrick, S. 2015, The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing , Department of Health, Canberra.

NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) 2020, NDIS Quarterly Report to disability ministers 30 June 2020 , (accessed 12 October 2020).

RACGP (Royal Australian College of General Practitioners) 2019, General Practice: Health of the Nation 2019 . East Melbourne, Victoria.

WHO (World Health Organization) 2001, Strengthening mental health promotion , Fact sheet no. 220, Geneva.

The performance indicator framework provides information on equity, efficiency and effectiveness, and distinguishes the outputs and outcomes of services for mental health.

The performance indicator framework shows which data are complete and comparable in this Report. For data that are not considered directly comparable, text includes relevant caveats and supporting commentary. Section 1 discusses data comparability and completeness from a Report-wide perspective. In addition to the service area's Profile information, the Report’s statistical context (section 2) contains data that may assist in interpreting the performance indicators presented in this section.

Improvements to performance reporting for services for mental health are ongoing and include identifying data sources to fill gaps in reporting for performance indicators and measures, and improving the comparability and completeness of data.


Outputs are the services delivered (while outcomes are the impact of these services on the status of an individual or group) (see section 1). Output information is also critical for equitable, efficient and effective management of government services.


Outcomes are the impact of services on the status of an individual or group (see section 1).

Indicator framework

An overview of the services for mental health performance indicator results are presented. Different delivery contexts, locations and types of consumers can affect the equity, effectiveness and efficiency of services for mental health.

Information to assist the interpretation of these data can be found in the services for mental health supporting interpretative material and data tables. Data tables are identified by a ‘13A’ prefix (for example, table 13A.1).

All data are available for download as an excel spreadsheet and as a CSV dataset — refer to Download supporting material. Specific data used in figures can be downloaded by clicking in the figure area, navigating to the bottom of the visualisation to the grey toolbar, clicking on the 'Download' icon and selecting 'Data' from the menu. Selecting 'PDF' or 'Powerpoint' from the 'Download' menu will download a static view of the performance indicator results.

Performance indicator data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this section are available in the data tables listed below. Contextual data and further supporting information can be found in the section.

Mental health data disaggregated for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
Table number Table title
Table 13A.17 Proportion of people receiving clinical mental health services by service type and Indigenous status
Table 13A.21 Proportion of young people (aged < 25 years) who had contact with MBS subsidised primary mental health care services, by selected characteristics (per cent)
Table 13A.30 Rates of community follow up within first seven days of discharge from a psychiatric admission, by State and Territory, by Indigenous status and remoteness
Table 13A.33 Readmissions to hospital within 28 days of discharge, by selected characteristics
Table 13A.48 Age-standardised rate of adults with high/ very high levels of psychological distress, by State and Territory, by Indigenous status
Table 13A.55 Suicide deaths, by Indigenous status

Download supporting material

Note: an errata was released for section 13 Services for mental health.


The following data have changed for section 13 Services for mental health data tables:

  • Tables 13A.2 and 13A.4: Amended footnotes attached to 'Mental health specific payments to states and territories' relating to 2018-19 data.