Mental health and the NDIS

Last updated


An estimated 600,000 Australians live with severe and persistent mental illness of which approximately 64,000 are eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Key points:

  • Mental illness that affects your ability to perform daily tasks is called psychosocial disability

  • If you have a mental illness that is affecting your ability to live a fulfilling life, you may be able to receive NDIS support

  • The NDIS does not fund the treatment of psychosocial disability, but rather provides support to help you perform everyday tasks

  • Your first port-of-call to receiving any type of mental health support is through your GP

What is a psychosocial disability?

Not everyone living with a mental health condition has a disability and will need NDIS support. A mental health illness resulting in a disability is referred to as a psychosocial disability. This indicates that your condition has a severe impact on your life and affects your ability to perform daily activities.

Some psychosocial disabilities include:

  • Anxiety

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Depression

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Schizophrenia

The New South Wales Department of Health states a psychosocial disability may restrict a person’s ability to:

  • be in certain types of environments

  • concentrate

  • have enough stamina to complete tasks

  • cope with time pressures and multiple tasks

  • interact with others

  • understand constructive feedback

  • manage stress

Whilst mental illness can be debilitating, and have an impact on general health, with the right support you can learn how to understand and manage your triggers, and live a fulfilling life.

Importance of support

According to 2018 statistics collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 95 percent of people living with psychosocial disability said they needed assistance or were experiencing difficulty with at least one activity in their daily life.

The three most common areas people needed assistance with were cognitive and emotional tasks (85.5 percent), mobility (54.9 percent) and health care (51.5 percent). Finding and accessing the right support for people with psychosocial disability is very important as poor mental health often has a flow-on effect through unemployment, homelessness and further health complications, for example not being able to look after yourself through self-care and personal hygiene.

In 2018, 84.6 percent of employed Australians with a psychosocial disability aged between 15 and 64 years old reported restrictions because of their disability, such as inability to work, restricted hours or restrictions in what type of work was undertaken.

“Individuals who find it hard to do the things they enjoy, such as getting out and about in their community, preparing food, going on holidays or perhaps even having a job they enjoy, can feel disconnected and isolated,” says Dana Cole from Open Minds, a mental health and disability support provider operating in Queensland and Northern New South Wales.

“By accessing support to do the things you like, you can feel supported, have someone to turn to when you have a difficult situation or even just have someone with you to break down social barriers by going to new places for the first time. This can really help you achieve your goals.”

Is mental illness covered by the NDIS?

If you have a mental illness that is affecting your ability to live a fulfilling life, you may be able to receive NDIS support.

It is important to note the NDIS does not fund therapy to address symptoms of mental illness but rather funds ongoing functional support for daily living. This support could include getting to a medical appointment, assistance in finding a suitable house, searching for a job, guidance in taking medication or help to prepare meals.

To be eligible for mental health support under the NDIS, you must first provide evidence of your psychosocial disability and how this impacts your life daily.

You don’t have to have a specific mental health diagnosis and any decisions about whether or not you will be able to access NDIS supports will be based on how the condition impacts on your daily life, not on the diagnosis.

If you live with psychosocial disability and need assistance to carry out everyday tasks involving communication, social interaction, learning, mobility, self-care and self-management, you may be eligible for an NDIS plan.

To be deemed eligible you must experience difficulties in doing at least one of the below areas, without support or with reduced functional capacity:

  • Communication – being understood in spoken, written, or sign language, understanding others and the ability to express your needs.

  • Social interaction – making and keeping friends, interacting with the community, behaving within limits accepted by others and the ability to cope with feelings and emotions in a social context.

  • Learning – understanding and remembering information, learning new things, practising and using new skills.

  • Mobility – your ability to move around the home and community to undertake ordinary activities of daily living requiring the use of limbs.

  • Self-care – personal care, hygiene, grooming, feeding yourself and the ability to care for your own health care needs.

  • Self-management – the cognitive capacity to organise one’s life, to plan and make decisions, and to take responsibility for yourself, completing daily tasks, making decisions, problem-solving and managing your finances.

You may receive support through the NDIS in these areas to help you perform tasks. Some examples of how the NDIS can help include:

  • Funding for therapies such as seeing a psychologist, counsellor, psychiatrist or social worker

  • Transport to get to medical appointments and support groups

  • Assistance in learning how to travel independently on public or private transport

  • Support in setting personal and professional goals, budgeting and paying bills

  • Self-care assistance, such as hygiene, showering and grooming

  • Support to help you get out in your community to build friendships

  • Assistance with shopping, meal preparation and cooking

  • Support with cleaning around your house or garden

  • Help to access Centrelink

  • Assistance in finding the right accommodation for you (including organising support in the home if required)

  • Support coordination or psychosocial recovery coaching and assistance with the NDIS

Everyone who applies to the NDIS must meet eligibility criteria. These include age, residency and disability requirements.

You will need to submit an Evidence of Psychosocial Disability form, which is to be completed by your most appropriate clinician, and your support worker or appropriate person. This evidence form makes it easier for people with a psychosocial disability and supporters to collect evidence for NDIS eligibility.

You will also need to submit a standard Access Request Form or make a Verbal Access Request by calling the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), which runs the NDIS, on 1800 800 110.

Compiling your evidence and supporting information

Your first port-of-call to receiving any type of mental health support is through your GP. They can provide proof and evidence that these services are needed for you to live as independent a life as possible. They do this through detailed medical records and referrals to specialist supports.

To get support under the NDIS, if you are eligible, you have to articulate your areas of difficulty into measurable goals that can be met with assistance from the Scheme. For example, if you have crippling anxiety that prevents you from leaving the house, your NDIS goal could be “I would like to access my community confidently” or “I’d like to step out of my comfort zone and meet new people.”

Enlisting the help of a Local Area Coordinator (LAC) is a good way to help you understand if you are eligible for the NDIS and how the Scheme can help you, as well as the process when applying and what happens once you receive an NDIS plan.

You can find the organisations partnered with your State or Territory to deliver LAC services here. You can also find their contact details by entering your location on the NDIS website.

LACs have experience in meeting with people with disability, identifying their goals, navigating the application process and handling the paperwork, which helps make the process easier and less stressful.

You will need to obtain detailed documents explaining your formal diagnosis of mental health from your GP or mental health specialist.

Tips for accessing NDIS psychosocial support

Your LAC can help you compile this evidence, which is a crucial step when it comes to applying for the NDIS.

People with psychosocial disability have ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’. To ensure you’re not just covering the support you need on a ‘good day’, keep a diary and write down the activities you have trouble with each day. This will help your LAC understand your support needs.

Ask your doctor or specialist to print you off notes at each appointment and keep these in an ordered folder with other relevant medical history.

If you choose to create a written statement for the NDIA’s consideration, ask your family and friends to provide a few comments from an outsider perspective on your functional ability and what supports they believe will improve your quality of life.

Funding from States and Territories

It is important to remember the NDIS does not fund the treatment of psychosocial disability, but rather provides support to help you perform everyday tasks and live a fulfilling life.

Your State and Territory mental health system funds supports that are clinical in nature, such as acute care, outpatient care, continuing care in the community, rehabilitation and recovery, clinical early intervention supports related to mental health and residential care for inpatient treatment or clinical rehabilitation.

In comparison, the NDIS funds disability supports that focus on a person’s functional ability to undertake activities of daily living and participate in the community and social and economic life.

Mental health services funded by your State and Territory Government are provided through community health, hospitals and in your home.

Your General Practitioner (GP) can make a referral to specialist mental health services. If you visit a hospital you can also be referred to these services.

For more information contact the Health Department in your State or Territory:

For more information on mental health and the NDIS, visit the NDIS website.

Related content:
Mental health when living with a disability
Mind matters: Michael’s* story
What is a psychosocial recovery coach?