What is a psychosocial disability?

Posted: July 29, 2022
Last updated: November 10, 2023
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Psychosocial disability explained

You may have heard the term ‘psychosocial disability’ and wondered what it means – the words themselves can sound daunting. A psychosocial disability is a term used, mainly by organisations like the NDIA, to describe a disability that may arise from mental health conditions. It doesn’t relate specifically to one diagnosis or label, it is a broad term that refers to the significant impact a person experiences in their daily life. It’s important to note that not everyone that has a mental health condition will have a disability, as everyone’s experience is different.  Generally, people are considered to have a psychosocial disability if their mental health condition is enduring and results in substantial difficulties in taking part in everyday activities. In the same way as other disabilities can affect the way a person uses their body or brain, a psychosocial disability can impact a person’s function, which affects their ability to interact with others, their environment, perform tasks and learn new skills.  It may impact the way we understand, think, and feel about things. As with other disabilities, there are clinical interventions and treatments that people with a psychosocial disability can access through the healthcare system to work to help with their symptoms.  There is also a range of other non-clinical services and supports that can help someone with a psychosocial disability to live a positive life that is not defined by their diagnosis. Psychosocial disabilities present differently in each person and because they are often invisible, they can be difficult for others to notice or understand. The stigma and discrimination associated with mental illnesses and psychosocial disabilities can be as debilitating as the condition itself. In this article, we explain the difference between a mental health condition and a psychosocial disability and look at the supports that can help people with a psychosocial disability live their life well, in a meaningful and contributing way.  

How is a psychosocial disability different from a mental health condition?

A mental health condition refers to alterations in thinking, mood, and behaviours and can include a range of symptoms that may be caused by life events (like exposure to traumatic events) or genetic factors.  Mental health conditions can be temporary or lifelong and affect people differently.  There are various mood, anxiety, personality, and psychotic disorders that people can be diagnosed with. Not all people with a mental health condition will have a psychosocial disability. A person may be considered to have a psychosocial disability if their condition is ongoing, significant, and makes it difficult to do everyday tasks such as going shopping, looking after yourself, or working. The condition can be ongoing or episodic but it is likely to be with you for life. A psychosocial disability is not about a diagnosis, it is about the effect it has on a person’s ability to live life in the way they want to. If the mental health condition causes a functional impact and creates barriers to equality with others, this is when it might be considered a person has a psychosocial disability. You can have a psychosocial disability without a clinical diagnosis of a mental health condition.  The NDIS states you do not need to disclose your diagnosis to be eligible, however, we know this is the preferred option when assessing access.  The NDIS will not assess based on the condition or label for the group of symptoms you experience, they will assess based on the impact of your mental health condition.  Below are some example barriers. A psychosocial disability can prevent someone from:
  • Getting a job
  • Accessing training
  • Joining in social activities
  • Getting or keeping a home
  • Achieving their goals.

Support for people with a psychosocial disability

If you have a psychosocial disability there is plenty of support available to help manage both the symptoms of your condition and your day-to-day life. With the right support in place, there is no reason why having a psychosocial disability should stop you from achieving what you want in life. Support and treatment requirements vary a lot between individuals. Many people find clinical or health support helps them manage their condition. These might be provided by a GP, a medical specialist (like a psychiatrist), or clinical support from a hospital. It can include acute care, rehabilitation, therapy, and medication to address symptoms. Separate from the medical treatment is a range of non-clinical supports that don’t treat the illness or condition itself but provide specialised support to help people overcome the barriers that prevent them from living their life.  These supports assist a person to regain their independence, learn new skills, build confidence, organise their priorities and understand their rights – and much more. This includes recovery coaching, where a qualified professional who understands psychosocial disability partners with you to organise your supports and work towards your goals. Recovery coaches complement other forms of support, acting as your go-to person for bringing together all the supports you need to assist you to live a good life, in the way you want. Some people with a mental health condition also see allied health practitioners, like a psychologist, occupational therapist, and exercise physiologist.  These types of services are available in the healthcare system and sometimes for NDIS participants, generally the rule here is the healthcare system funds services that are related to a reduction in clinical symptoms and the NDIS will fund services that relate to maintaining and improving function. If you have a psychosocial disability, or if you think you might, you could be eligible for the NDIS, which provides government funding to people with a disability to help them pay for the services and supports they need because of their disability. If your condition is permanent and affects your ability to do everyday things then the NDIS may help you to get the support you need. Read more information about NDIS eligibility for psychosocial disabilities and mental health conditions.

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