Austria covers an area of some 84 000 km2 and has a population of 8.1 million. According to World Bank criteria, Austria is a high-income country. The overall health budget represents 8% of gross domestic product (World Health Organization, 2005). The state of Austria is divided into nine federal provinces, which have significant legislative rights, including in healthcare provision.
Life expectancy at birth is 76.2 years for males and 82.3 years for females (in 2005). The proportion of the population under the age of 15 years is 15% and the proportion above 65 years is 17%. Austria is among the 19 countries worldwide which are projected to have at least 10% of their population aged 80 years or over by the year 2050. Since some mental disorders, such as dementia, increase with age, the number of psychiatric patients will probably rise dramatically.
Mental health policy and services
The number of psychiatric hospital beds has decreased substantially. In the year 2001 there were 4696 psychiatric beds in total (i.e. 59 per 100 000 population), down from nearly 12 000 beds in 1974 – a decrease of more than 60%.
The National Hospital Plan includes suggestions for the establishment of psychiatric units in general hospitals. Ten psychiatric units in general hospitals have been established, and several others are planned. Most traditional mental hospitals have been transformed to meet the needs of patients with acut mental illness. In addition, some of them have extended their services to people with physical diseases.
Each of the nine provinces has developed a mental health plan. Although there are regional differences between these, the key points of all plans are: a focus on community psychiatry, the decentralisation of psychiatric services and the social reintegration of persons suffering from mental disorders. The planning and provision of community psychiatric services are the responsibility of the provinces. Although some provinces now have a comprehensive network of community services, others are less advanced. The majority of these services (for vocational rehabilitation, supported housing, counselling, etc.) are provided by private organisations, but are predominantly funded by government agencies. The staff includes a variety of different professions (e.g. psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, psychotherapists, psychologists).