Caring for a person with psychosocial disability

People who struggle with their mental health can sometimes develop psychosocial disability, which affects the way they think, feel and interact with other people. It can cause barriers in their lives to work, education, social and cultural activities and general health, so the support and care of their family members or friends can be really important.

Key points

  • Many people with psychosocial disability need care from another person

  • It is important to remember people with psychosocial disability may have fluctuating care needs and needs related to another disability as well

  • Carers often need support to provide the best care possible

Chief Executive Officer of Mental Health Australia, Dr Leanne Beagley, says people living with psychosocial disability need a range of supports to help them engage in life, such as access to housing, employment and social participation.

“People living with a psychosocial disability can be some of the most vulnerable people in our community that can be heavily stigmatised and discriminated against,” Dr Beagley says.

“To fully engage with their community and have a meaningful life, people with a psychosocial disability need choice and control of the decisions involving them and the support they receive.” 

According to research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) the type of care many people with psychosocial disability need is for cognitive and emotional tasks.

Some of the struggles with everyday life that these people reported included memory problems or periods of confusion, social or behavioural issues, anxiety and mental illness.

Of the 1.1 million Australians who had a psychosocial disability in 2018, almost 95.5 percent reported that they received assistance with at least one everyday activity, according to the ABS.

That assistance was often provided by a parent, partner or child.

Changing care needs

For people with psychosocial disability, not having the right supports to help them feel socially included and engaged in life can lead to becoming caught in a cycle of poor mental health.

But with the right supports and strong networks of caring friends and family members, a person with psychosocial disability can manage their condition and may also be able to focus on recovery.

Many psychosocial disabilities fluctuate and the person you care for could have different needs on different days.

Having strong communication with the person you care for and being open to what they think their needs are is a good way to make sure any changes in their situation are addressed in their care.

Open conversations about the way they are feeling and the way you are feeling can help both the person needing care and the person doing the caring.

You might also be called upon to advocate for the person you care for when they need treatment or health appointments, so make sure you understand as best you can what they need at that point in time, as well as what they might need support for in the future.

However, if they can speak for themselves then support them to speak up – try not to speak for the person you care for, make assumptions or be judgemental of their condition.

Encourage them to do things you know they can do, for example cleaning their room, without forcing or demanding anything, as they may just need that encouragement.

Other types of care

Quite often people with psychosocial disability will have a secondary condition or disability impacting their life.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics research 85.5 percent of people with psychosocial disability also reported having another disability.

Two thirds of people with psychosocial disability had a physical disability, two fifths had an intellectual disability and one third had a sensory disability.

This means it is important to look at the needs of a person holistically, as the care they need due to psychosocial disability may be linked to their other care needs.

The therapists and specialists they need to look after their health and wellbeing could involve not only mental health professionals but also occupational therapists, nutritionists and dieticians or other disability care specialists.

Where to find help as a person providing care

Dr Beagley says part of a person with psychosocial disability’s care is the health and wellbeing of the person caring for them.

“Carers of people with a psychosocial disability also need to look after themselves and get the support they need as often they overlook their own needs, placing them at higher risk of health and mental health issues,” she says.

There are organisations across Australia which can help you to care for a loved one with psychosocial disability, which could involve training, peer support or information resources.

Here are some good places to start looking for support:

The Carer Gateway can also provide you with information online or over the phone on 1800 422 737.

You might also like to consider respite for a period of time which works into your schedule – this could involve the person you care for being looked after by a paid support worker, another family member or friends – for anything from a few hours to a few days.

Do you have any tips for caring for someone with psychosocial disability? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content

Psychosocial disabilities

Taking care of your mental health when living with a disability

Mental health and the NDIS