Mental health and disability

Mental health conditions are common – so much so that 42.9% of Australian adults experience a mental disorder at some point in their lives. Not all mental health conditions, however, are considered disabilities. When they are, they’re termed psychosocial disabilities. The NDIS defines a psychosocial disability as a disability that may arise from a mental health issue.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), over 4 million Australians (roughly 18% of the population) are living with disability. Of those 4 million, around 36% of those experiencing profound disability and 32% of those with other forms of disability self-reported that they suffered from mood (affective) disorders like depression. This compares with the 8.7% of people without disability who had mood disorders.

The AIHW’s report from 31 December 2021 showed that ‘people with a psychosocial disability formed the third largest primary disability group (53,123 people) among NDIS participants’.

This shows what an important topic mental health is in the disability community.

In this article, we’ll look at:

  • Cause and effect – the chicken or the egg question
  • The mental health risk factors of people with disabilities
  • How can the NDIS help?
  • What if I’m not eligible for NDIS supports?
  • Strategies to help your mental health

Let’s dive in.

Cause and effect – the chicken or the egg question

Mental health conditions can both become a psychosocial disability in itself or be an effect of having another disability. If a person has another disability as well as a psychosocial disability, it may be hard to decipher which came first – the chicken or the egg.

Psychosocial disabilities can be in the form of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), PTSD, and eating disorders. These can be incredibly debilitating and take a lot of time and energy to manage.

The Australian Government defines disability as ‘a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts everyday activities’. In some cases, however, a mental health condition is not recognised as a psychosocial disability, especially if it is invisible to other people. Many people also have mental health conditions that go undiagnosed. Both these aspects act as barriers to care and can deeply affect a person’s ability to cope with daily life.

The mental health risk factors of people with disabilities

There are various risk factors that people with disabilities face which can make them more prone to developing a mental health condition.

These may include:

  • Prejudice, bullying and discrimination
  • The physical symptoms of their disability
  • Having trouble finding the right supports or meeting funded support criteria
  • Social isolation and disconnection from others
  • Difficulty with finding employment due to discrimination
  • Financial stress as a result of lack of employment, lower income than people without disabilities, or higher daily living costs
  • Lack of access to many places

Adults with a disability are 32% more likely to experience high or very high levels of psychological distress, a precursor to mental health conditions, than those without disability (8.0%).

How can the NDIS help?

The NDIS supports people with permanent and significant disabilities. If you have a mental health condition that has caused a psychosocial disability, you may be eligible for NDIS supports. As mental health conditions can fluctuate and you may have some good days and some not-so-good days, the NDIS takes this into consideration when assessing your application.

If you are approved, their Psychosocial Disability Recovery-Oriented Framework (Recovery Framework) helps you get the support you need to enhance your independence and take part in the community and everyday life. These supports may include a Psychosocial Recovery Coach with or without lived experience.

What if I’m not eligible for NDIS?

If you don’t meet the eligibility criteria for NDIS, there are still many options available to you for support. A Mental Health Plan from your GP may help you access subsidised counselling/psychotherapy sessions.

Even if you’re not an NDIS participant, you can still get in touch with a Local Area Coordinator (LAC) through the NDIS. LACs can offer guidance on community resources and support options, and use their extensive community connections to help you access groups, activities, and social networks within the local area.

The NSW Government provides Community Living Supports (CLS) to eligible people. This is a community-based psychosocial program to help people with mental illness live and recover in the community.

You might be eligible for this program if you’re:

  • 16 years or older
  • Diagnosed with a mental illness that makes your daily life very challenging
  • Keen to get help to develop and achieve your goals

Strategies to help your mental health

It’s important that we talk about mental health in the disability community, so we raise awareness of it, but what can you practically do to help yourself if you are living with a psychosocial disability or mental health condition?

Here are some ideas that may help you:

  • Find your community. Sometimes it’s helpful to talk with a person who has lived experience of what you are going through, so you can feel understood and less alone. Research online for support groups or contact your local disability organisation to find people who you can relate to and connect with. Start by searching #disability.
  • Talk it out. Bottling up your experience can take its toll. While it may be scary to open up to a loved one, it can provide a great sense of relief to share the load. If you don’t want to talk to a friend or family member, consider a professional as they will be better placed to provide objective support.
  • Be aware of internalised ableism or negative narratives. You may inadvertently have internalised some of the stigma and prejudiced beliefs around mental health and disability. Try to monitor your thoughts and see if you can switch the narrative from focusing on what you can’t do to what you can do.
  • Get social and work on your goals. Getting out of the house and working towards your goals in a welcoming and social environment can help bolster you. Our Day Programs are the perfect place to learn new skills tailored to your needs, while being supported by our trained and compassionate care staff.

We understand that mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities can be very tough to live with, especially because they’re often not visible to the untrained eye. While no one can feel what you are feeling, there are many people with lived experience, as well as resources and support available so you don’t have to cope on your own.

If you’d like to sign up for one of our Day Programs, give us a call today or come in for a tour of our premises. P: (02) 8328 0679

Here are some additional resources you might find helpful:

  • SANE is a leading mental health organisation in Australia, supporting people with complex mental health challenges and their families and friends. Call: 1800 187 263
  • Lifeline offers around-the-clock crisis assistance and prevention for suicide.
    Call: 13 11 14
  • Mental Health Online provides a wide range of online services and programs at no cost.
  • Moodgym is an interactive tool designed to teach and reinforce skills for managing depression and anxiety symptoms.
  • Beyond Blue offers a free online and telephone counselling service 24/7.
    Call: 1300 22 4636
  • Kids Helpline offers a free online and telephone counselling service 24/7 for young people aged 5 to 25 years. Call: 1800 55 1800
  • Mensline Australia offers a free online and telephone counselling service for men. Call: 1300 78 99 78
  • Department of Veterans Affairs is a government site offering support for veterans and their families.
  • 13Yarn offers 24/7 counselling support by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander crisis supporters. Call: 13 92 76

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