Most Victorians with mental health issues access mental health services through their general practitioner or primary care provider, but people who are seriously affected by their illness can be referred to the specialist mental health service system.

Generally the impact or severity of the condition, rather than a specific diagnosis, triggers access to specialist mental health services. Specialist mental health services in Victoria are divided into two service delivery types: clinical and non-clinical.

Clinical services focus on assessment and treatment of people with a mental illness. These services are called area mental health services and are managed by general health facilities, such as hospitals.

Non-clinical services are called Mental Health Community Support Services (MHCSS). These focus on activities and programs that help people manage their own recovery and maximise their participation in community life.

Both clinical and non-clinical services operate within geographically defined catchment areas.