Mental health service use and need for care of Australians without diagnoses of mental disorders: findings from a large epidemiological survey

Irene Bobevski, Alan Rosen, Graham Meadows

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11 Citations (Scopus)


Aims.: While epidemiological surveys worldwide have found a considerable proportion of people using mental health services not to have a diagnosis of a mental disorder, with possible implications of service overuse, other work has suggested that most people without a current diagnosis who used services exhibited other indicators of need. The aims of the present study were, using somewhat different categorisations than previous work, to investigate whether: (1) Australians without a diagnosis of a mental disorder who used mental health services had other indicators of need; and (2) how rate and frequency of service use in Australia related to level of need, then to discuss the findings in light of recent developments in Australian Mental Health Policy and other epidemiological and services research findings. Methods.: Data from the Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (NSMHWB) 2007 was analysed. Results.: Most people using mental health services had evident indicators of need for mental health care (MHC), and most of those with lower evident levels of need did not make heavy use of services. Only a small proportion of individuals without any disorders or need indicators received MHC (4%). Although this latter group comprises a fair proportion of service users when extrapolating to the Australian population (16%), the vast majority of these individuals only sought brief primary-care or counselling treatment rather than consultations with psychiatrists. Access and frequency of MHC consultations were highest for people with diagnosed lifetime disorders, followed by people with no diagnosed disorders but other need indicators, and least for people with no identified need indicators. Limitations include some disorders not assessed in interview and constraints based on survey size to investigate subgroups defined, for instance, by socioeconomic advantage and disadvantage individually or by characteristics of area. Conclusions.: MHC for individuals with no recognised disorders or other reasonable need for such care may be occurring but if so is likely to be an area-specific phenomenon. Rather than revealing a large national pool of treatment resources being expended on the so-called ‘worried well’, the findings suggested a generally appropriate dose–response relationship between need indicators and service use. Definitive ascertainment of area-specific disparities in this national pattern would require a different survey approach. Government proposals for widespread introduction of stepped-care models that may seek to divert patients from existing treatment pathways need to be implemented with care and well informed by local data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)596-606
Number of pages11
JournalEpidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Epidemiology
  • health care utilisation
  • mental disorders
  • mental health services

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