Hospital emergency services

Mental health services provided in emergency departments

Hospital emergency departments (EDs) play a role in treating mental illness. People seek mental health-related services in EDs for a variety of reasons, often as an initial point of contact or for after-hours care (Morphet et al. 2012).

State and territory health authorities collect a core set of nationally comparable information on most public hospital ED presentations in in their jurisdiction, which is compiled annually into the National Non-Admitted Patient Emergency Department Care Database (NNAPEDCD).

Mental health-related ED presentations in this section are defined as presentations to public hospital EDs that have a principal diagnosis of Mental and behavioural disorders. More details about NNAPEDCD and identifying mental health presentations are available in the data source section.

Data downloads:

Mental health services provided in emergency departments 2018–19 tables (580KB XLS)

Mental health services provided in emergency departments 2018–19 section (700KB PDF)

Mental health services provided in emergency departments interactive figures

Data source and key concepts related to this section

Data coverage includes the time period 2006–07 to 2018–19. This section was last updated in November 2020.

Key points

  • 303,340 presentations to public Australian EDs were mental health-related in 2018–19, which was 3.6% of all presentations.
  • 77.3% of these mental health-related ED presentations were classified with a triage status of either urgent (patient should be seen within 30 minutes) or semi-urgent (within 60 minutes).

  • 65.6% of mental health-related ED presentations were seen on time (based on triage status) compared with 71% of all ED presentations.

  • 53.8% of mental health-related ED presentations had a principal diagnosis of either Mental and behavioural disorders due to psychoactive substance use or Neurotic, stress-related and somatoform disorders.

Service provision

States and territories

In 2018–19, there were 303,340 public hospital ED presentations with a mental health-related principal diagnosis recorded, representing 3.6% of all ED presentations. South Australia had the highest mental health-related proportion of ED presentations (4.6%) and the Australian Capital Territory had the lowest proportion (3.1%) (Figure ED.1). Nationally, the rate of mental health-related ED presentations was 120.5 per 10,000 population. The Northern Territory had the highest rate (272.0) and Victoria the lowest (96.6).

Figure ED.1: Per cent of mental health-related presentations of all emergency department presentations in public hospitals, by state and territories, 2018-19

Vertical bar chart showing the per cent of mental health-related emergency department presentations in public hospitals by state or territory in 2018–19. South Australia had the highest per cent of mental health-related ED presentations accounting for 4.6% of all ED presentations, followed by 4.1% in the Northern Territory, 3.9% in Western Australia, 3.8% in Queensland, 3.6% in Tasmania, 3.5% in New South Wales, 3.4% in Victoria and 3.1% in the Australian Capital Territory. The national per cent of mental health-related ED all ED presentations was 3.6%. Refer to Table ED.1.

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