Monitoring matters: Mental health services activity monitoring

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments acknowledged the potential mental health effects on Australians from both the virus and the containment measures. Since April 2020, we have worked with the Department of Health and Aged Care to create the national and state COVID-19 mental health dashboards. The dashboards compile national health data, custom data sets and data sharing agreements with state and territory health departments to monitor the pandemic’s impact on Australians’ mental health.

In December 2022, we launched the Mental Health Services Activity Monitoring System (MH SAMS) to provide a more efficient way of visualising, presenting and sharing these insights. The MH SAMS draws from a range of data sources, including the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), mental health crisis and support organisations Lifeline, Kids Helpline and Beyond Blue, digital mental health organisation ReachOut, and data from state and territory services.

Building on the work of the COVID-19 mental health dashboards, MH SAMS comprises:

  • a secure access portal for use by Australian and state and territory government agencies and ministerial offices, expandable to other agencies and organisations, as needed
  • interactive online dashboards allowing users to triangulate service activity across different settings including crisis lines, digital mental health, mental health MBS and PBS activity, emergency departments, specialised public community mental health, and admitted mental health care
  • data sharing agreements between the AIHW and state and territory health departments, which underpin access for governments to key data.

Using this data, a timeline of significant events that have impacted Australia’s mental health can be visualised, allowing easy identification of trends. Correlations between global, national and local events can be made, which can influence the way governments and services prepare for future events.

The MH SAMS was used by National Cabinet to monitor population mental health throughout Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data shared through the 
 MH SAMS are also enabling Australian, state and territory governments to monitor the mental health impacts of recent natural disasters and plan for future mental health services in times of crisis. The MH SAMS was recognised as a finalist in the 2023 APS Data Awards.