Mental health scripts, patients in the millions

depression mental health anxiety population

Latest numbers show millions of Australians are accessing health services and prescriptions for mental illness every year

The Federal Government has released its Fifth National Mental Health Plan this month, as new statistics reveal three million people accessed Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services in 2015–16 alone.

And in the same time frame, 36 million prescriptions for mental health-related medications were provided to four million patients.

National Mental Health Plans are five-year documents released by the Federal Government, a process that began in 1993. The first plan was renewed in 1998, in 2003, and then in 2009.

Governments across the country have pledged their commitment toward achieving these outcomes, and have identified indicators of progress that will be measured and reported on over the life of the Fifth Plan.

It sets out eight priority areas:

  • Achieving integrated regional planning and service delivery;
  • Effective suicide prevention;
  • Coordinating treatment and supports for people with severe and complex mental illness;
  • Improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and suicide prevention;
  • Improving the physical health of people living with mental illness and reducing early mortality;
  • Reducing stigma and discrimination;
  • Making safety and quality central to mental health service delivery; and
  • Ensuring that the enablers of effective system performance and system improvement are in place.

The Federal Government recently committed $47 million to more frontline services for suicide prevention, as part of its overall annual allocation of over $4 billion towards mental health services for 2017-18.

“Evidence-based approaches and strategies to prevent suicide will be implemented through a community-wide approach, including more effective follow-up support for people who have attempted to take their own lives,” says Health Minister Greg Hunt.

“A key priority area is strengthening regional integration of mental health services to support more effective treatments for those in need.

“In partnership with consumers and carers, Primary Health Networks and Local Hospital Networks will plan and design mental health services to meet specific local needs.

“Improving the mental health system and outcomes for people with mental illness can only be done in partnership with the community, sector and all governments.”

Mental health in Australia – key facts

  • 1 in 5 Australians aged 16 and over will experience mental ill-health each year.
  • Almost 50% of Australians aged over 16 will experience mental illness at some point.
  • In 2015, there were 3027 deaths by suicide – an average of 8 deaths per day.
  • Suicide rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are twice as high as for non-Indigenous Australians.
  • The male suicide rate is higher for those living in rural and remote regions.
  • The most common mental health problem managed by GPs in 2015-16 was depression, followed by anxiety, sleep disturbance, acute stress reaction, and schizophrenia.
  • $8.5 billion was spent on mental health related services in 2014–15

Use of mental health-related services

According to the latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (released mid-October 2017):

  • 3 million people received Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services.
  • 273,439 presentations to emergency departments were mental health-related.
  • 414,176 people received 9.4 million community mental health care service contacts.
  • 244,934 hospitalisations were for overnight mental health-related hospital care, amounting to nearly 4 million patient care days.
  • In 2015–16, 36 million prescriptions (subsidised and under co-payment) for mental health-related medications were provided to 4 million patients. Of these, two-thirds (67.2% or 24.2 million) were subsidised by the Australian Government under the PBS or RPBS.

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