Mental health outcome measures in the Australian context: what is the problem represented to be?

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Background: There is growing interest in the use of routine outcome measures (ROM) in mental health services worldwide. Australia has been at the forefront of introducing ROM in public mental health services, with the aim of improving services and consumer outcomes.
Methods: An in-depth policy and document analysis was conducted using Carol Bacchi’s ‘What is the problem represented to be?’ approach to critically analyse the use of ROM. This approach was used to identify and analyse the problem representations relating to the need for, and the choice of, outcome measures in Australian public mental health services, and the potential consequences of policy and practice. Data included in the analysis were seven policy documents, four reports on the introduction of outcome measures in Australia, the Australian Mental Health Outcomes and Classifications Network website, and the content of the outcome measures themselves.
Results: Two dominant representations of the ‘problem’ were identified: 1) the ‘problem’ of mental health service quality and accountability, relating to the need for mental health outcome measures; and 2) the ‘problem’ of addressing deficits in biopsychosocial functioning of mental health consumers, which relates to the choice of outcome measures. Framing the ‘problem’ of mental health outcomes in these ways locates the problem within individual health providers, services, and consumers, ignoring the broader socioeconomic conditions underpinning mental health and
effective service provision.
Conclusions: This critical analysis of the introduction and use of ROM in public mental health services in Australia highlights the need to consider the role of the social determinants of mental health, mental health service funding, and recovery-oriented care in ensuring services are meeting consumer needs and expectations. Broader governmental engagement is central to genuine change and opportunities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number24
Number of pages16
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Routine outcome measures
  • Mental health policy
  • Policy analysis


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