Is mental illness a disability in Australia?

If you are living with a mental health condition, you may be eligible for disability support.

Around 45% of Australian adults will experience mental illness in their lifetime.

While not all mental health issues lead to disability, many people with mental health conditions face barriers at home, in the workplace and in their communities.

In this article, we look at whether mental illness is a disability and what support is available for people living with mental health conditions in Australia.

Is mental illness a disability?

A mental health issue may be considered a disability, but not always.

There are many different types of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders and schizophrenia. Everyone has a different lived experience.

For some people, their mental health condition does not affect their daily life significantly. For others, their condition can have a major impact on daily activities, such as self care, participating in the community and working.

Mental illness and disability discrimination

The Equal Opportunity Act (2010) recognises mental illness as disability and protects against discrimination in places like school, work, shops and sporting organisations.

For example, an employer has a duty to make sure you can do your job safely and properly. That could include providing reasonable changes to your job schedule or tasks.

If you feel that you have been discriminated against, you can make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

What is psychosocial disability?

A disability that arises from a mental health condition is called a psychosocial disability.

Not everyone with a mental health condition has a psychosocial disability.

When a person's condition presents barriers to equality, it is considered a disability. The term disability describes the barriers a person faces, not the person themselves.

How does psychosocial disability affect a person's life?

A person with a mental health condition may experience a range of barriers at home, in the community and at work.

They may have difficulty with things like:

  • Doing daily activities
  • Going to certain places
  • Being in particular environments
  • Managing stress
  • Concentrating
  • Maintaining energy and motivation
  • Interacting with others

Mental health conditions are medical conditions that should be treated with professional help. Some people live with a mental health condition and other conditions such as intellectual disability, neurocognitive disorders and physical disability.

People living with a mental health condition may need support to overcome the barriers they face. The type and level of support will be different for everyone.

Support for psychosocial disability in Australia

If you're living with a mental health condition, support is available.

If you have not been diagnosed with a mental health condition, but feel something is not right, a good place to start is with your GP. They can help you get the support you need and refer you to the right mental health professional.

You can also speak with a counsellor on the phone or in person. Some free mental health services in Australia include:

If you need ongoing or long term support, consider the following government-funded services:

National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

The NDIS helps people living with a permanent and significant disability access supports and services to help them achieve their goals. This may include things like getting a job, participating in the community or improving your communication skills.

To be eligible for the NDIS, you need to live in Australia and be aged between 7 and 65 years old. When applying for the NDIS, you will need to show evidence that your disability is likely to be lifelong and that you are likely to need ongoing support.

Find out more: How to access the NDIS.

Disability Employment Services

Disability Employment Services is a program that helps people living with injury, illness or disability find and keep a job.

As a Disability Employment Services provider, APM supports people with a wide number of health conditions, including anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, post traumatic stress disorder and more.

To be eligible, you must be an Australian resident aged between 14 to 65 years old and able to work between 8 and 30 hours a week with support when required.

You must also be receiving an income support payment or disability support pension, be an NDIS participant or an eligible school leaver.

As a participant, you can get help with things like:

  • Career advice
  • Finding suitable job opportunities
  • Accessing further training
  • Writing your resume and job applications
  • Preparing for interviews
  • Accessing mental health services
  • Accessing workplace accommodations
  • Accessing funding for things like uniforms and transport

More information: How to access Disability Employment Services.

Disability Support Pension

The Disability Support Pension is financial support for people living with a disability that stops them from working. That includes psychosocial disabilities.

Not everyone that has a disability will be eligible. You need to meet a number of medical and non-medical rules and you have to provide evidence about your condition and how it affects your ability to work.

You may need to complete a Program of Support to be eligible for the disability pension. A program of support, such as Disability Employment Services, will help you prepare for, find and keep a job.

Find out more: How to apply for the Disability Support Pension.

Mental health and employment

Some people living with a mental health condition find that working has a positive effect on their mental well being.

Take Dan for example. He found that his mental health improved after he started working. He said it gave him a sense of accomplishment and increased his confidence.

Check out our guides on finding work while living with a mental health condition:

If you're ready to work, we're here to help.

At APM, we believe everyone has the right to work in a safe and supportive environment. Whatever your employment goals are, we want to help you get there.

Chat with an APM employment consultant today about how we can help you.