Service use for mental health problems: findings from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing

Author(s): Burgess PM, Pirkis JE, Slade TN, Johnston AK, Meadows GN, et al.


Objectives: To provide an overview of 12 month rates of service use for mental health problems and mental disorders by the general Australian adult population.

Method: Data came from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (2007 NSMHWB), a nationally representative household survey of 8841 individuals aged between 16 and 85 years.

Results: Overall, 11.9% of the general Australian adult population made use of any services for mental health problems in a 12 month period. Approximately one-third of people (34.9%) meeting criteria for a mental disorder did so. Female subjects with mental disorders were more likely to use services than male subjects (40.7% vs 27.5%). People in the youngest age group made relatively less use of services than older adults. Those with affective disorders were most likely to make use of services (58.6%), followed by those with anxiety (37.8%) and substance use disorders (24.0%), respectively. Mental health hospitalizations were less common than consultations with community-based providers (2.6%), whereas 34.6% consulted a community-based provider--particularly general practitioners (24.7%) and psychologists (13.2%). There was a clear dose-response effect between severity of disorders and rates of community-based service use: 63.5% of those with severe mental disorders used community-based services, compared with 40.2% and 17.7% of those with moderate and mild mental disorders, respectively. There was also a relationship between comorbidity of mental disorders and service use.

Conclusions: Rates of service use for mental health problems among those with mental disorders in Australia are less than optimal. Little international guidance is available regarding appropriate levels of treatment coverage and other comparable countries face similar difficulties. Further work is required to determine what an appropriate rate of service use is, and to set targets to reach that rate. Australia has demonstrated that concerted policy efforts can improve rates of service use. These efforts should be expanded.

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