The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing1 found that approximately one in five Australians experience symptoms of a mental disorder within any 12-month period.

The experience of mental disorder is highest in the younger age groups (16-24 years) where more than one-quarter experienced symptoms of a mental disorder in any one year. Mental disorders are also more common among people with chronic physical health conditions, with 28 per cent experiencing symptoms in a 12-month period compared to 18 per cent in the general population. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental disorder in all age groups.

Despite the high prevalence of mental disorder in the general population, only 38 per cent of adults and 25 per cent of children with a mental disorder had sought treatment. Women and people aged over 35 years were the most likely to have accessed services. Individuals with affective disorders (for example depression, manic-depression) were more likely to access services (49.7 per cent) compared to those with anxiety disorders.

Mental health services are funded and provided from multiple sources and delivered by a range of professionals and organisations. Services are offered through primary care (including general practice, community nurses and allied health professionals), and from specialised mental health services (such as private psychiatrists, public community-based mental health services, public and private acute and psychiatric hospitals, and specialised residential mental health care facilities).

While private psychiatrists and private psychiatric hospitals treat both common and severe mental health problems, public community and inpatient mental health services are focussed on the delivery of services to individuals with the most severe mental health problems. This group of people make up approximately three to four per cent of the population or about 15 per cent of the total number of people who may experience a mental health disorder in any one year.

General practice is the most common service accessed for treatment of mental disorders and is the focal point for the delivery of mental health services to people with higher prevalence disorders not treated through the public mental health system. Prior to the Better Access initiative, treatment options for individuals with higher prevalence disorders were largely limited to services provided through general practice and Divisions of General Practice, private psychiatrists, private psychiatric clinics and counsellors and therapists in private practice. The availability and affordability of services was a major barrier in access to services for individuals in the community with common mental health disorders.


1 Australian Bureau of Statistics National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. October 2008.