Supporting mental health in disability

Mental health illnesses are common in Australia. This article outlines the correlation between mental and disability and explains how National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding for mental health support works. We also cover some of the supports and services available for people living with psychosocial disabilities.

Understanding mental health conditions

There are different ways to talk about mental health, and different words used to describe mental health difficulties. Different terms you might hear include:

  • mental illness

  • mental health condition

  • psychological disorder

Mental health conditions can include:

  • psychosocial disability

  • psychiatric disability

  • anxiety disorders

Types of mental health conditions include:

  • depression

  • bipolar disorder

  • schizophrenia and other psychoses

  • dementia

  • developmental disorders including autism

Mental health conditions can occur to people of any age, culture and gender. The prevalence of mental health conditions is increasing. There was an estimated 13% rise in mental illness and substance use between 2007 and 2017.

A national approach to mental health treatment

The National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing (NSMHW) is a recent and robust study that sought to determine the prevalence of mental illness prevalence in Australia. The study was supported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics during the period 2020-22. The study found that of Australians aged 16–85, an estimated:

  • 8.5 million had experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life – equating to 43% of the population

  • 4.3 million had experienced a mental disorder in the previous 12 months – equating to 22% of the population

This means that nearly half of all adult Australians have experienced mental illness.

Other data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare during the same period also found that

  • 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 7 young people experienced a mental health disorder in the previous 12 months.

  • 4.7 million people, equating to 18% of the population, filled a mental health-related prescription in the year 2021-22

  • almost $12.2 billion was spent on mental health services in Australia during 2021–22, which equates to about 7% of the total government expenditure

The correlation between mental health and disability

Not everyone with a disability will experience poor mental health. However, for a number of reasons, there is an increased chance that a person with a disability will also experience a mental health concern such as anxiety or depression. Some of the reasons for the correlation between poor mental health and a disability are understood to related to the fact that people with disabilities face:

  • higher levels of disadvantage

  • reduced likelihood of entering the workforce

  • reduced likelihood of achieving higher education

  • increased levels of social isolation, feeling excluded or bullied

  • more challenging experiences when seeking access to health and medical service provision

Psychosocial disability

The term psychosocial disability is used to define situations in which a disability arises from or as a result of a mental health issue.

Not everyone who has a mental health condition will have a psychosocial disability. Mental health conditions to do not automatically lead to the diagnosis of a psychosocial disability. Mental illness may be temporary or short term, while psychosocial disabilities are typically severe and ongoing. People with a disability as a result of their mental health condition may qualify for the NDIS.

NDIS supports for people with mental health issues

The Australian Government delivers the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) for people living with disabilities. The NDIS provides participants with physical disability with funding to be used for the supports they require. NDIS participants must meet eligibility requirements to be accepted into the scheme. Each NDIS participant has a unique NDIS plan outlining the required services and supports. It is also useful to know that:

  • support is available to help you organise an NDIS plan

  • some people choose to manage their plan and plan funds themselves

  • the NDIS plan will include other supports and services a participant can access, and families play a big part in supporting participants

When applying for the NDIS, people with a psychosocial disability should have an appropriate clinician, support worker or other appropriate person complete the Evidence of Psychosocial Disability form, available here. This form includes questions related to the mental distress diagnosis. This evidence form makes it easier for people with a psychosocial disability and their supporters to collect evidence for NDIS eligibility. 

Strategies to address mental health issues

The good news is that many mental health concerns can be treated effectively by local care providers, and at a relatively low cost. Professional care to improve a person’s mental health can be provided in both professional and community settings. Options for addressing mental illness concerns for people living with disabilities include:

  • therapy or counselling

  • medication

  • relaxation techniques for stress reduction and focus

  • referral for support through local health systems

  • peer support and connection to other support systems

  • improving access to support services and addressing issues of social inclusion

  • reduction in the use of of alcohol and drugs, if they are being used

Many workplaces offer services and supports to help employees who have mental health concerns and many community centres and health services offer programs and activities to help people access mental health support.

What does good mental health look like?

Factors such as past experiences, levels of resilience, thinking style and feelings of self esteem can all impact a person’s mental state. People with good mental health feel free and able to live their lives in a positive way. They take steps to live a happy and fulfilling life. Even if they feeling sad, frustrated, unhappy or anxious sometimes, they usually know how to adapt and cope with these feelings.

Supporting people with mental illness

People with disabilities who are experiencing mental challenges should be offered support as soon as possible. It’s important to remember that individuals with mental illness are still capable of making valuable contributions to society.

Many people are able to make a full recovery from certain conditions. By taking steps to address mental health concerns, we can increase awareness, prevent issues from escalating, and provide early intervention for people with disabilities.

It can be tricky to know how to talk to people with disabilities about how they are feeling, and if they are down or sad. The best thing you can do is listen without judgement if they wish to talk, and encourage them to seek professional help.

Social and community participation for people with mental health conditions

In some cases, facilitating access to social and community participation supports can improve how an NDIS participant is feeling. Increasing community connections and becoming involved in activities that you enjoy, and which help you learn and grow, can help reduce mental distress. One example of a social and community participation activity is volunteering. Some other activities that might have a positive outcome and improve mental wellbeing include:

  • joining a local sporting or exercise group to increase physical activity

  • moving your body through yoga or Pilates

  • finding a hobby you enjoy

  • going out with family or friends

Nursed Care for social connections

We are Nursed Care, an experienced and fully NDIS accredited community care and service provider. We are based in Parramatta but support people who live all over western and central Sydney. We have NDIS clients located in Blacktown, Castle Hill, Cabramatta, Liverpool and beyond.

We provided a range of services to NDIS, My Aged Care and private clients. We help our clients with the tasks of daily living, for example:

  • providing support with personal care, hygiene, bathing and dressing

  • carrying out or helping with housework

  • preparing meals

Many of our services can help you stay connected within your local community. We can help you find groups and social activities you enjoy, and will work with you to ensure you can participate in your chosen activities. We can help you meet the social and life goals outlined in your NDIS plan.

Meet the Nursed Care team

Nursed Care support workers come from a range of cultural and community backgrounds, and have a diverse mix of skills and experiences. We will do our best to match you with support workers who you have something in common with, in line with your personal preferences.

It makes sense for NDIS participants to choose Nursed Care as the preferred provider of disability and daily life supports. Contact us to learn more about how we help people with disabilities live a happy and healthy life or learn more about why mental health support in aged care is so important.

Related questions

According to the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, during the 12 months prior to the study period 2020-2022, anxiety was the most common mental illness. The study found that the most common forms of mental illness were:

  • anxiety disorders affecting (3.4 million people, equating to 17% of the population) 

  • affective disorders affecting (1.5 million people, equating to 8% of the population)

  • substance use disorders affecting 650,000 people, equating to 3% of the population)

There are many great resources available for adults with depression.

Beyond Blue receives funding from the Australian Government and provides free support services for everyone in Australia. They are open 24/7 if you are feeling anxious and depressed, and need a person to talk to.

Lifeline is another useful service for a person in distress or crisis.

Carers are also more likely to experience mental challenges, due to the stress of everyday life as a carer. Cares should seek access to respite and other support services that can help alleviate mental distress. Respite and time out from caring duties enables carers to enjoy a social life and maintain relationships with family members and friends. To help them manage their physical and mental exhaustion, carers often benefit from therapy or counselling as well.

Visit the Carers Australia website for more information.

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At Nursed, we offer a full range of care and disability support services, assisting you to live the life you want to live. Contact us today.

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