As the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) becomes the key scheme in Australia to help people with disabilities, which include mental illness, there are lots to consider with the rollout of the scheme. The scheme blurs the lines between what a physical disability compared to mental illness; however, in reality these two categories are treated very differently by the world and not given the same considerations. This article highlights some challenges that people living with a mental illness face as well as some points of considerations to think about when encountering someone facing these struggles.
- Mental Illness is less visible than Physical Illness
Although some presentations of mental illness can be picked up on if one knows the particular symptoms, they are generally not visible as a physical illness. You would not be able to see their disability physically; however, the signs might present themselves in a change in behaviour, eating patterns or emotional turmoil. While an outsider might not be able to see the physical symptoms, the one experiencing the mental illness can often feel certain physical signs, e.g. change in sleep pattern, diet, increased heart rate, nausea, active bowels and more. It is for this reason that the outsider cannot see the symptoms, that most of the time, mental illness is misunderstood and not given as important considerations as a physical disability. Just because you can’t see it, does not mean that one is not experiencing it.
- Where the blame goes
For someone who has a mental illness, an outsider might have the urge to comment on how someone with a mental illness reacts towards a particular situation. Comparing how the person reacts to how someone without a mental illness might react is unhelpful because many a time, these reactions are due to a combination of biological and environmental factors. This blame is even internalised by the person experiencing it themselves, self-deprecation, doubt, and blame are often common in people who have a mental illness. There are a few strains of research, but the two which are the clinical (biological) and the psychosocial (environmental) method are key to understanding mental illness as we know of it today. No one gets a mental illness because of something they did, and no one recovers from an illness by simply “trying harder.”
- Accepting treatment
While it is widely accepted for people with a physical illness to get treatment, many people who experience mental illness often try to “wait it out”, perhaps being told by someone else or it even an opinion of their own. Many people try to work things up themselves and in some cases they often turn out unsuccessfully, having prolonged periods of mental struggles even resulting in suicide or self-harm. Stopping the stigma should include people open about their mental health and actively seeking help. There is no shame in this because more often than not the symptoms of mental illness can be treated successfully with therapy or medication or a combination of both. It is not a quick fix, but actively working on one’s mental health with researched solutions can bring about an improvement in the long term.
How to help?
It is crucial to realize that each person who suffers from a mental illness is unique, and we need to treat it by a case by case scenario. No two people are the same. Below are a few different points which can, but not limited to be helpful to those facing a mental illness.
- Groups - social contact is often needed when people get isolated due to their mental illness. Using the participant’s NDIS core funding for group activities can be helpful to them. There are many groups around ranging from art, sports, drama, singing, spiritual, etc. It is a great way to learn a skill that they are interested in while meeting new people. There are also plenty of groups available on MeetUp or council run that do not require NDIS funding to access.
- Exercise – it is medically proven that exercise can often contribute to the improvement of mental health. Utilize this in the NDIS plan by getting a personal trainer, exercise physiologist, or linking the participant to a sports club/meetup group.
- Peer Support – These groups are targeted for mental health support and include people who are facing similar mental health struggles to support each other through their journeys. The Mental Health Foundation Australia run monthly peer support groups.
- Therapy – A way for one to express their emotions and deal with previous trauma. It can be a way to change certain destructive patterns in behaviour and to learn how to cope with the day to day stresses of everyday life. Finding a good psychologist, counsellor, or creative arts therapist can be helpful.
- Consult the local GP- Although medical services are not covered under the NDIS, it is important to link anyone with a mental illness with their local GP, who can then make a professional referral to any treatments, therapists or psychiatrists.
- Medication – Though in some cases, it might not be necessary, medication is one of the most common ways to treat mental illness. It may be a short term intervention or a long term necessity.
- Support Workers – for those who do not have any informal supports, linking one up with a support worker can be helpful. The support worker will be able to take the PWD to any appointments but also important for social contact to have someone to talk to as emotional support.
- Shelter – a safe environment and shelter. Some people facing mental illness who have no supports will be facing issues of homelessness. The NDIS can provide temporary accommodation for those who do not have a home, under core supports. Depending on the disability, finding shelter in Support Residential Services (SRS) or Supported Disability Accommodation (SDA) can be an option, before finding long term council housing.
- Emergency – in the event of a crisis situation it is important to give the participant some options of where to contact, after hours or in an emergency. Here are some useful numbers:
Emergency Call Service – 000
Lifeline – 131114
SuicideLine Victoria – 1300651251
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300659467
MensLine Australia – 1300789978
As we navigate the NDIS to bring about better lives for people with disabilities (PWD), it is important not to exclude people with mental illness from this category, to give them as much care as someone who has a physical disability. Empowering them to gain more autonomy in their life. It is a fine line in capacity building to be able to help them but not take away their independence. The fact is that everyone is different. Patience is the key to working with them, as well as having the empathy to understand their struggles. With the right supports set in place, everyone with a mental illness should be able to have a good quality of life.
The Accessibilty to the NDIS
Mental Health and the NDIS