National mental health report 2013

Indicator 7: Rates of contact with primary mental health care by children and young people

Page last updated: 2013

Key messages:

  • There was a three-fold increase in the number of children and young people receiving Medicare-funded primary mental health care services from 2006-07 (79,139) to 2011-12 (337,177). This represents an increase from 1.1% of children and young people receiving these services to 4.6% of children and young people doing so.
  • The increase was most marked for those aged 18-24 (2.2% to 7.5%), followed by those aged 12-17 (1.1% to 5.5%).
  • This improvement is largely due to the introduction of the Better Access initiative in 2006.
Primary mental health care services have a central role to play in identifying and treating children and young people who are showing signs of mental illness. Childhood, adolescence and young adulthood are crucial developmental periods, and appropriate treatment at these life stages can not only have positive outcomes in the immediate term but can also help to avert or ameliorate problems in later life.

Medicare-funded mental health services provide the main vehicle for delivering mental health services in primary health care settings. Table 9 shows the number and percentage of children and young people making contact with Medicare-funded primary mental health care services from 2006-07 to 2011-12, broken down by age group. It shows that the absolute number of children and young people (aged 0-24) receiving these services has risen substantially over time, from a low of 79,139 in 2006-07 to a high of 337,177 in 2011-12. This represents an increase from 1.1% of children and young people receiving these services to 4.6% of children and young people doing so. The increase was most marked for those aged 18-24 (2.2% to 7.5%), followed by those aged 12-17 (1.1% to 5.5%).

This improvement is largely due to the introduction of the Better Access initiative in 2006. Better Access introduced a suite of new Medicare-funded services (provided by eligible allied health professionals) and expanded the existing range of services provided by GPs and psychiatrists. Annually, children, adolescents and young adults account for slightly over 20% of all users of Better Access.52

Several other primary mental health care initiatives of relevance to this group have been implemented under the National Mental Health Strategy. The most notable of these is headspace, which was first funded in 2006 and provides youth-friendly access to 12-25 year olds who may be developing, or are already experiencing, mental and/or substance use disorders. headspace operates through integrated service hubs and networks. Another example is Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) which offers similar services to those provided by Better Access, but is funded by the Commonwealth through Medicare Locals rather than via the Medicare Benefits Schedule fee for service system. ATAPS has been running since 2002, and in 2010 an initiative was added which specifically targets children and their parents and offers interventions like family therapy, training in behaviour management, and play therapy.

A range of other providers (for example, community health centres, school counsellors and health nurses, and university and TA FE counselling services) also offer primary mental health care services for children and young people. In addition, child and adolescent specialist public mental health services deliver some primary mental health care services, for example, in their work in school settings.

Taking into account headspace, ATAPS and relevant services provided in educational, community health and specialist mental health settings would boost the figures in Table 9, but their specific contribution is unknown. It is likely that there is considerable overlap between those who receive Medicare-funded services and those who see providers in these other settings. For example, a significant proportion of headspace clients are referred on to GPs or allied health professionals providing care under Better Access. Similarly, individuals who see an allied health professional through ATAPS require a referral from a GP, and the GP would typically bill Medicare using a Better Access item number.

Without a system of identifying unique individuals accessing all primary mental health care across service streams, it is not possible to include the broader group of services in the counts shown in Table 9. These numbers should therefore be regarded as a conservative estimate, but one which probably does account for the majority of children and young people in contact with primary mental health care. Top of page

Table 9: Number and percentage of children and young people receiving relevant Medicare-funded mental health services, 2006-07 to 2011-12, by age group

0-4
(Preschool)
5-11
(Primary school)
12-17
(Secondary school)
18-24
(Youth/ young adult)
All children and young
people aged <25 years
2006-07 - number
1,479
12,298
18,941
46,421
79,139
2006-07 - %
0.1
0.7
1.1
2.2
1.1
2007-08 - number
2,791
28,238
38,984
89,011
159,024
2007-08 - %
0.2
1.5
2.3
4.2
2.2
2008-09 - number
3,931
40,126
55,246
114,458
213,761
2008-09 - %
0.3
2.1
3.2
5.2
3.0
2009-10 - number
4,643
50,434
70,850
130,896
256,823
2009-10 - %
0.3
2.7
4.2
5.9
3.5
2010-11 - number
5,320
60,852
83,671
153,412
303,255
2010-11 - %
0.4
3.2
4.9
7.0
4.2
2011-12 - number
5,862
70,156
94,032
167,127
337,177
2011-12 - %
0.4
3.6
5.5
7.5
4.6