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AIHW releases report on mental health services

21 August, 2008

A report on mental health services released recently by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found that expenditure on state and territory mental health services as a whole increased on average by 5.2% per year (after adjusting for inflation) from 2001-02 to 2005-06, to $2.7 billion.

Expenditure on specialised psychiatric wards in public acute hospitals, and community mental health services, both rose by an average of 10% per year over the same period, while public psychiatric hospital expenditure had an average annual increase of 4%.

The report, Mental health services in Australia 2005-2006, also found that the number of full-time equivalent staff in state and territory mental health facilities rose by 3% per year over the same period.

The number of mental-health related prescriptions has also risen by 1% per year over recent years. Jenny Hargreaves, senior executive of the AIHW's Economics and Health Services Group said 'Widely quoted figures show that 1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental illness at some time in their lives. And 1 in 10 encounters at GP surgeries nationwide involve the management of a mental health problem.

The report found that depression was the most common mental health problem managed by GPs (34%), followed by anxiety (16%) and sleep disturbance (14%).

For hospital admissions involving psychiatric care, the most common diagnosis was schizophrenia (18%). In contrast to the rises in expenditure on mental health, the number of Medicare-funded psychiatrist services fell by 1% per year between 2001-02 and 2006-07.

'There was a big variation according to area of residence, with relatively low numbers of psychiatrist services being provided outside major cities,' Hargreaves said.

In 2006-07, there were 113 services per 1,000 population in major cities and 19 services per 1,000 population in very remote areas. There was also a fall-off between city and country for Medicare-funded mental health services provided by allied health professionals.

In 2006-07, there were 33 services per 1,000 population in major cities and 22 services per 1,000 population in remote areas. In very remote areas, 5 services were provided per 1,000 population.

The majority of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme expenditure on medications for mental health related conditions in 2006-07 was for antipsychotics (49%) and antidepressants (45%).

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