What is Mental Health Triage (Australia)?


Mental health triage is a clinical function conducted at point of entry to health services which aims to assess and categorise the urgency of mental health related problems.


The mental health triage service may be located in the Emergency Department, Community Mental Health Services, Call Centre, or co-located with other specialist mental health services such as the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team.

Emergency Services such as police and ambulance may also have a co-located mental health triage service.

There is considerable variation in the clinical settings in which mental health triage services may be operating, therefore service delivery models vary, however, the essential function is to determine the nature and severity of the mental health problem, determine which service response would best meet the needs of the patient, and how urgently the response is required.

A core function of mental health triage is to conduct risk assessment that aims to determine whether the patient is a risk of harming self or others as a result of their mental state, and to assess other risks related to mental illness. As with other triage models, the mental health triage clinician must assign a category of urgency to the case, which is recorded using verbal indicators of risk such as ‘extreme risk’ through to ‘low risk’, or by using numerical (urgency= time-to-treatment) categories 1 (immediate) to 5 (2 hours), as per the 5-point Australasian Triage Scale.

Mental Health Triage Training

In 2006 the Centre for Psychiatric Nursing Research and Practice introduced a 2 day mental health triage training programme designed and facilitated by Dr Natisha Sands.

The focus of the programme is on providing specific, targeted education to support triage duty and intake clinicians in conducting point of entry mental health assessment and service provision to Area Mental Health Services.

The aim of the programme is to increase the quality and consistency of mental health triage service delivery, by providing the clinician with sound theoretical and practical knowledge to guide clinical practice.

The expected outcomes of participation in the program are increased confidence and skill in triage clinical practice, improvement in the quality of service delivery, improvement in the quality of triage documentation, and professional development and support of clinical staff.

Brief Overview of the Programme

  • Telephone skills (phone manner, phone assessment, problem callers).
  • Risk assessment (assessment, diagnosis, priority, action).
  • Medico-legal issues.
  • Decision-making (the phases of triage, under pressure, influences, resource management, decision-making frameworks).
  • Negotiation skills (other agencies, team, clients, families).
  • Crisis management (identification, types of crises, problem solving, diffusion, resolution).
  • Secondary consultation and education (other services/agencies, clients, families).
  • Effective documentation (risk assessment, incidents, care planning, confidentiality, electronic documentation, exchange of information).
  • Engaging consumers (consumer centred service delivery).

The programme is open to mental health triage, duty, and intake clinicians of all disciplines, and is suitable for both novice and expert clinicians and is designed to assist clinicians engaged in both face-to-face and telephone only triage.