Taking care of your mental health when living with a disability

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Living with a physical or intellectual disability can affect many parts of your overall wellbeing, and mental health is no exception. Your mind is a powerful tool, so taking care of your mental and emotional wellbeing is just as important as looking after your physical health by exercising and eating well.

Key points:

  • Factors that can contribute to mental health conditions in people with disability include social exclusion, financial hardship, loss of independence, bullying and discrimination

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

  • If you live with a psychosocial disability or mental illness, you may be eligible for support under the NDIS

Being aware of factors that can contribute to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as where to go to get help, can go a long way to improving or managing your mental wellbeing.

Disability and mental health awareness

The Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that in 2019, an estimated 36 percent of people with severe or profound disability self-reported that they had mood disorders such as depression, compared with 32 percent of people with other forms of disability, and 8.7 percent of people without disability.

The ABS also reported that adults with disability are more likely (32 percent) to experience high or very high levels of psychological distress than adults without disability (8 percent).

So what can you do to take care of your mental health while living with a disability and what support is available?

Factors that can impact mental health

While many factors that impact the mental health of people with disability are similar to those of people who do not live with a disability, there are additional social, economic and health vulnerabilities and challenges which can exist for people with a disability.

Some factors that can contribute to mental health conditions in people with disability include social exclusion, financial hardship, loss of independence, bullying, discrimination and issues with self-acceptance.

These could look like:

  • Discrimination or bullying in society, workplace, or during the recruitment process

  • Financial stress that comes with high costs of managing their disability or periods of unemployment

  • Not being ‘able’ to do something others can, like climb stairs, play a certain sport or cope well in busy social situations

  • Social isolation due to physical or intellectual disability

  • The process of going through multiple medical procedures or experiencing ill health

  • Coming to terms with an acquired disability, including loss of independence and change of lifestyle, and mourning past abilities

  • Complexities with mobility or accessing community supports, particularly during COVID-19 pandemic restrictions

  • Difficulties navigating the processes of seeking and receiving a referral to a mental health specialist or finding appropriate support when there are multiple diagnoses

Tips for improving your mental health

  • Make your health your top priority by eating well, exercising regularly and managing your stress levels

  • Focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t

  • Ask for (and accept) help from a professional or your support people or social network

  • Don’t compare your life to others

  • Go for a walk or ride in nature to clear your mind and get fresh air

  • Consider a change of environment and book in for short-term respite

  • Find new hobbies you enjoy or community activities that give you meaning and purpose

Mental health support services

Your first port-of-call to receiving any type of mental health support is through your General Practitioner (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.

Australian Government mental health services

Mental health services funded by your State and Territory Government are provided through community health, hospitals and in your home. Your GP can make a referral to specialist mental health services. If you visit a hospital you can also be referred to these services.

There is also mental health support available through Medicare. This could include some GP visits, referrals by a GP to professionals as part of a mental health treatment plan, access to social workers, and rural and remote support. For more information, visit the Medicare website.

For more information about Government-funded mental health services near you, contact the Health Department in your State or Territory.

Mental health support organisations and helplines

To search an extensive list of mental health support providers and professionals in your State and Territory, use Disability Support Guide’s Provider Finder Tool.

Mental health support under the NDIS

If you don’t currently receive National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) support and live with a psychosocial disability or mental illness, you may be eligible for the NDIS. If you need assistance to carry out everyday tasks involving communication, social interaction, learning, mobility, self-care and self-management, you have to articulate your areas of difficulty into measurable goals that can be met with assistance from the Scheme.

It’s important to remember that not all mental health conditions are covered by the NDIS. For more information on eligibility, visit the NDIS website.

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

If you have an existing NDIS plan, speaking with your Local Area Coordinator (LAC) or Support Coordinator is a good place to start to understand what supports are available to you and how to include them in your plan.

Click here for more tips on accessing mental health services under the NDIS.

How do you manage your mental health while living with a disability? Share your experience in the comments below.

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