Mental health nursing workforce

In 2018, almost 1 in 15 (23,083 or 7.0%) nurses (including both registered and enrolled nurses) employed in Australia indicated they were working principally in mental health. Over 4 in 5 of these were registered nurses (85.2%) with a similar profile seen for the total nursing workforce (DoH 2020).

State and territory

There were 87.8 FTE mental health nurses per 100,000 population working in Australia in 2018, with state and territory rates ranging from 76.5 in the Australian Capital Territory to 102.2 in Western Australia (Figure WK.5). In terms of time spent as a clinician, there were 81.1 clinical FTE mental health nurses per 100,000 population at a national level, with state and territory rates ranging from 68.9 in the Australian Capital Territory to 94.3 in Western Australia.

FIgure WK.5: Employed mental health nurses, FTE and clinical FTE per 100,000 population, states and territories, 2018.

Clustered bar chart showing the number of FTE and clinical FTE mental health nurses per 100,000 population by state or territory in 2018.  WA had the highest number of FTE mental health nurses at 102.2 FTE and 94.3 clinical FTE per 100,000 population, followed by Vic (91.0 and 83.9), SA (90.0 and 82.1),  Tas (86.9 and 80.3), Qld (84.3 and 78.4), NSW (83.3 and 77.1), NT (76.8 and 69.5) and  ACT (75.6 and 68.9). The national total was 87.8 FTE and 81.1 clinical FTE mental health nurses per 100,000 population. Refer to table WK.11. 

 

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Source data: Mental health workforce tables (489KB XLS)

Remoteness area

Three-quarters of FTE mental health nurses (76.5%) were employed in Major cities in 2018 (72.0% of the population lived in Major cities in 2018). Major cities had the highest rate of FTE mental health nurses (93.2 FTE per 100,000 population), followed by Inner regional (85.6), Remote (56.1), Outer regional (54.1) and Very remote (36.1) areas (Figure WK.6). This distribution was different from the overall nursing and midwifery workforce, with the highest rate of FTE nurses found in Very remote areas (1,357.1 per 100,000 population), followed by Remote (1,320.2), Major cities (1,183.6), Inner regional (1,151.4) and Outer regional (1,112.3) areas (DoH 2020).

Figure WK.6: Employed mental health nurses, FTE and clinical FTE per 100,000 population by remoteness area, 2018.

Clustered bar chart showing the number of FTE and clinical FTE mental health nurses per 100,000 population by remoteness area in 2018. Major cities had the highest number of FTE and clinical FTE mental health nurses per 100.000 population at 93.2 and 86.2 respectively, followed by Inner regional (85.6 and 79.0), Remote (56.1 and 51.2), Outer regional (54.1 and 49.5) and Very remote (36.1 and 32.9) areas. The national total of FTE and clinical FTE mental health nurses per 100,000 population was 87.8 and 81.1 respectively. Refer to table WK.12. 

Visualisation not available for printing

Source data: Mental health workforce tables (489KB XLS)

Hours worked per week

In 2018, mental health nurses reported working an average of 36.1 total hours per week, with averages ranging from 34.6 hours per week in Tasmania to 38.8 hours in the Northern Territory. The average clinical hours worked per week reported by mental health nurses was 33.4 hours at the national level, ranging from 32.0 hours in Tasmania to 35.1 hours in the Northern Territory (Figure WK.7).

Figure WK.7: Employed mental health nurses, average total and clinical hours worked per week, states and territories, 2018.

Clustered bar chart showing the average total and clinical hours worked per week by mental health nurses by state or territory in 2018. Mental health nurses in NT reported on average the highest number of total and clinical hours (38.8 and 35.1 respectively), followed by ACT (37.1 and 33.5), NSW (36.8 and 34.1), WA (36.7 and 33.8), Qld (35.9 and 33.4), Vic (35.5 and 32.7), SA (35.5 and 32.4) and Tas (34.6 and 32.0). The national average was 36.1 total and 33.4 clinical hours. Refer to table WK.11. 

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Source data: Mental health workforce tables (489KB XLS)

Mental health nurses employed in Remote (39.5 hours per week) and Very remote (39.3 hours per week) areas reported working the highest average total hours worked per week in 2018.

Mental health nurses employed in Remote areas also reported the highest average clinical hours worked per week(36.1 clinical hours per week), followed closely by those employed in Very remote areas (35.8 clinical hours per week).

Characteristics

About 3 in 5 mental health nurses (56.7%) were aged 45 and above in 2018; a third (32.1%) were aged 55 and older and 1 in 20 (5.9%) were aged 65 and over (Figure WK.8). The proportion of male nurses is nearly three times higher in the mental health nursing workforce when compared to the male proportion of all employed nurses and midwives in Australia (29.6% and 11.1%, respectively).

Figure WK.8: Employed mental health nurses, by sex and age group, 2018.

Stacked vertical bar chart showing mental health nurses by age group and sex in 2018. The majority of mental health nurses were aged between 55–64 (26.2% total, 8.2% male and 18.0% female),  followed by 45–54 years (24.6% total, 7.4% male and 17.2% female), less than 35 years (22.9% total, 5.7% male and 17.2% female), 35–44 years (20.4% total, 6.3% males and 14.1% female), and 65 years and older (5.9% total, 1.9% male and 4.0% female).  Refer to Table WK.9.   

Visualisation not available for printing

Source data: Mental health workforce tables (489KB  XLS)

Male mental health nurses worked more total and clinical hours per week on average than female nurses (males: 37.7 total hours and 34.7 clinical hours; females: 35.4 total hours and 32.8 clinical hours) in 2018.

In 2018, registered nurses worked an average of 36.5 hours per week while enrolled nurses worked an average of 34.2 hours per week. Registered nurses and enrolled nurses worked similar clinical hours of 33.4 and 33.3 average hours per week respectively.

Over time

The supply of mental health nurses increased by 4.0% from 2014 to 2018 (from 84.3 FTE per 100,000 population to 87.7). The proportion of female mental health nurses increased slightly over this period while the proportion of male nurses decreased slightly (the proportion of mental health nurses who were male was 31.4% in 2014 and 29.6% in 2018; the proportion of mental health nurses who were female was 68.6% in 2014 and 70.4% in 2018) (Figure WK.9).

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FIgure WK.9: Proportion of employed mental health nurses, by sex, 2014-18.

Line chart showing the proportion of employed mental health nurses by sex from 2014–18. The proportion of employed female mental health nurses has slowly increased each year from 2014 (68.6%), 2015 (69.0%), 2016 (69.3%), 2017 (69.8%) to 2018 (70.4%). The proportion of employed male mental health nurses has slowly decreased from 2014 (31.4%), 2015 (31.0%), 2016 (30.7%), 2017 (30.2%) to 2018 (29.6%). Refer to Table WK.

Source data: Mental health workforce tables (489KB XLS)

The proportion of the mental health nurse workforce aged 55 and over increased from 31.5% in 2014 to 32.1% in 2018.

The average hours worked per week from 2014 to 2018 by mental health nurses declined slightly, for both registered nurses (36.8 to 36.5) and enrolled nurses (35.1 to 34.2).

Work characteristics

Most FTE mental health nurses (93.7%) reported their principal role at work to be a clinician, followed by administrator (3.4%) and teacher or educator (2.0%). The most common FTE mental health nurse work setting reported was hospitals (64.2%, excluding outpatient services), followed by community health care services (21.1%) and residential health care facilities (3.9%).