Number 21: Estimating the prevalence of mental disorders among income support recipients: Approach, validity and findings

Using the ABS 1997 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, this paper examines the prevalence of mental health disorders for the unemployed, students, partnered women with children, unpartnered women with children, and people not in the labour force. Mental disorders are classified into depressive (or affective) disorders, substance-use disorders and anxiety disorders.

Key findings of the report indicate that mental disorders are much more prevalent among income support recipients than the rest of the population:

  • More than 30 per cent of income support recipients (or one in three) have a diagnosable mental health disorder compared to 18.6 per cent for non-recipients.
  • Substance-use disorders are more prevalent among people receiving unemployment benefits and students.
  • Lone mothers are 3 to 4 times more likely to be suffering from clinical anxiety or depressive disorders than the rest of the population.

The paper suggests that these findings support the direction of current strategies introduced in Australians Working Together such as Personal Advisors and the Personal Support Programme. It also notes that there is the potential to identify mental disorders and connect services early through the following strategies:

  • Build capacity to address mental health issues in mainstream services
  • Improve assessment and screening processes
  • Educate customer service staff to improve awareness of mental health issues
  • Integrate mental health and employment programs
  • Use principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to build self-efficacy in employment programs
  • Further consideration of the psychological factors of sanctions and penalties for breaching.

Last updated: