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Mental Health and Disability: Revealing Key Challenges and Solutions

10 October, 2023

Research from the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare shows that people with disabilities may be struggling more than the rest of the country with mental health issues. However, mental health professionals often don't feel equipped to treat them effectively. In fact, the figures indicate that around two thirds of people with a disability report low to moderate levels of psychological distress.

It is for these reasons that we have chosen to use this blog as an opportunity to highlight this issue. We believe that mental health for those living with disability must be made a priority and that more attention should be given to the barriers that currently prevent individuals for accessing effective mental health treatment.

Man in a wheelchair smiling and interacting with a standing friend, illustrating the importance of Mental Health and Disability awareness.

The increased risk for people with disability can be attributed to factors like social isolation, discrimination, and the challenges associated with managing a disability.

In addition, people with disability and mental health issues can often fall between the cracks in the system. An individual may present to a disability-specific health service, only to be turned away due to a mental health issue. On the flip side, they might then go to a mental health service and be turned away there because they have a disability.

The Mental Health Challenges Faced by People Living with Disabilities

Several factors contribute to the higher levels of mental health issues experienced by people with disabilities and it's important to understand these factors in order to begin redressing the disparities in mental health statistics.

This being said, it's also essential to recognize the complexity of the factors confronting people with disabilities in terms of accessing mental health support and the ways in which these factors vary from individual to individual.

There are some key common factors that appear to contribute to the increased prevalence of mental health issues among individuals with disabilities:

  • Physical Health Challenges

    Individuals with disabilities often face chronic health conditions, pain, or limitations in mobility, which can contribute to stress, frustration, and a reduced quality of everyday life. The constant management of physical health issues can take a toll on mental well-being.

  • Limited Access to Mental Health Services

    People with disabilities may face barriers to accessing mental health services, including physical accessibility, lack of specialized care, or insufficient awareness among healthcare providers about the intersection of disability and mental health.

  • Social Isolation and Stigma

    People with disabilities may experience social isolation and stigma, which can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Negative societal attitudes and misconceptions about disability can contribute to a sense of exclusion and hinder social interactions. In addition, the physical environment and societal structures can also present barriers which can also contribute to increased stress and pressure on mental health.

  • Discrimination and Prejudice

    Discrimination and prejudice against individuals with disabilities persist in various forms. Whether in the workplace, education, or social settings, facing discrimination can also contribute to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and mental health issues.

  • Financial Strain

    The costs associated with managing a disability, including medical expenses, assistive devices, and modifications to living spaces, can create financial strain. In addition opportunities for employment for people with disabilities can be more limited in some regions of the country. Economic challenges such as these, may lead to increased stress and anxiety which can negatively affect mental health.

  • Trauma and Adjustment Issues

    Some individuals acquire disabilities due to traumatic events, such as accidents or injuries. Coping with the psychological impact of such events, along with adjusting to daily life even with a disability, can contribute to mental health challenges.

Three individuals enjoying a game of chess outdoors, with a focus on a smiling woman with Down syndrome, highlighting the significance of Mental Health and Disability.

How To Access Mental Health Support

Given the higher rates of mental health challenges amongst people living with disability, accessing quality mental health support becomes even more essential. There are a number of avenues that are worth exploring if you or someone you love is in need of support.

People with disabilities in Australia have access to various mental health support services and resources. Here are several avenues people can explore to access mental illness support:

  • General Practitioner (GP)

    A good starting point is to consult with a general practitioner (GP). GPs can provide initial assessments, offer advice, and refer individuals to mental health specialists if needed. While some GPs have indicated they at times feel poorly equipped to deal with individuals with disabilities, this is still the best starting point for those seeking mental illness support in Australia.

  • Mental Health Care Plans

    GPs can help individuals with disabilities develop Mental Health Care Plans. These plans enable access to Medicare-subsidized mental health services, including visits to psychologists and other mental health professionals.

  • Psychologists and Counsellors

    While there can be costs involved, consulting with psychologists or counsellors who specialize in mental health and disability can be beneficial. They can provide therapeutic support and help individuals develop coping strategies for managing mental health challenges.

  • Disability Support Services

    Disability support services may offer mental health support as part of their broader services for those suffering from a mental health condition. These services can include assistance with daily living tasks and emotional support tailored to the individual's disability-related needs.

  • Online Resources

    There are numerous online resources and helplines that provide mental health information and support. Websites like Beyond Blue and ReachOut offer a range of resources and tools.

  • Local Community Services

    Many local communities have mental health services and support groups that individuals with disabilities can access. These may include community centres, support groups, and outreach programs. A good starting point in NSW is the mental health community council website.

  • National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

    The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) does not typically fund NDIS supports for mental health. However, there are situations where this is possible, particularly for those assessed as having a psychosocial disability. Psychosocial disability describes a disability arising from a mental health issue. Not all mental health conditions are a psychosocial disability. Psychosocial disabilities are severe and longstanding.

    Individuals with psychosocial disability can access a range of services and supports through the NDIS, including mental health services, counselling, therapeutic interventions, and assistance with daily living activities.

  • Peer Support Networks

    Joining peer support networks or groups can provide individuals with disabilities an opportunity to connect with others who share similar experiences. This can be a valuable source of emotional support and understanding.

  • Telehealth Services

    Telehealth services have become more widely available, allowing individuals to access mental health support remotely. This is particularly useful for those with mobility issues who may face challenges in attending in-person appointments.

  • Advocacy Organizations:

    Disability advocacy organizations often provide information and support related to mental health. These organizations may be able to guide individuals to appropriate services and resources.

    Finally, if you are in crisis, please contact emergency services or a helpline, such as Lifeline (13 11 14).

How Can Focus Care Help?

If you have a disability and are looking for a service provider, Focus Care can help. At Focus Care, we can help you find the right support and best care and therapies available. We will create an individualised plan, with the focus on a person’s strengths, needs and abilities. Focus Care clients benefit from a range of service choices including social support.

We can match you with a passionate support worker who will assist in the home and out in the community and can also help to connect you with appropriate mental health and support systems.

Finally, we have a range of therapies that can reduce mental health concern, promote self-expression and help to build life skills. Art or music therapy can be fantastic for helping people to find new ways to connect and learn, and we will be there through your life transitions, changing and adapting with you.


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