Joel Aitken is the Manager of Mental Health and Disability Services at CHESS Connect, a not-for-profit human services organisation on the east coast of NSW. He has a personal interest in addressing homelessness, domestic violence and supporting social justice activities within the local community. He loves guiding his staff in supporting people in their recovery journey towards independence and self-agency.

Services operating in the mental health sector have progressed the language around mental illness to promote recovery and wellness for people living with mental ill health. With this culture of language in mind, the word disability has not been a term used often within mental health community.

Because of this there has been some confusion around mental health conditions and their place in the NDIS. What does the scheme really do? What constitutes a ‘disability’ when it comes to mental ill-health? How does the criteria of ‘permanent and significant’ apply to mental wellness and recovery?

This article aims to address some of these burning questions.


The NDIS has been created by the federal government to provide people living with disability reasonable and necessary resources to live an ‘ordinary life,’ investing $22 billion into better supports and care for people living with a disability. Disabilities that will be receiving funding will be permanent or likely to be permanent. The scheme will aim to support 460 000 Australians who are living with many different disabilities, intellectual, down syndrome, mobility disabilities, brain injury, hearing or vision disability, autism and many others including mental illness.

The NDIS is focused on what is needed by people in their everyday lives for independent, meaningful participation within the community they live in. Purposefully, the funding packages through the NDIS are not going to replace clinical or crisis mental health supports currently provided by state government or psychological services sourced through GPs.

When you’re being assessed for NDIS funding your assessor will be looking at how mental ill health may cause impairment or functional limitations and how significantly these impact your everyday life.

Psychosocial Disability

The scheme uses the term ‘Psychosocial Disability’. It is a term that has not been overly utilised by many community members or services and the terms ‘mental illness/ mental ill health’ are not terms used in the literature for NDIS. They are however very intertwined.

The functional impact of mental ill health is psychosocial disability. For example, a person may need capacity building supports for goal setting or transitional planning to manage change as a person’s resilience, or mental capacity is at a point where they are not able to complete everyday tasks, organise their affairs or be involved in community or work activities.

When a person is considering becoming a participant of the scheme and they live with mental ill health, they need to be thinking Psychosocial Disability. So far the people living with psychosocial disability make up 10% of those receiving individualised support packages.

A participant within the scheme can access various allied health professionals, behaviour therapy and psychological counselling when it is written into their plan.

80% of people living with mental ill health making access requests to the scheme are being assessed as eligible to be a participant. The average amount of funding for a pack is $35 000, to fund the supports listed in the NDIS price guide.


Now what about recovery! The definition of recovery when used in mental health is as follows:

“The concept of recovery was conceived by, and for, people with mental health issues to describe their own experiences and journeys and to affirm personal identity beyond the constraints of diagnosis” (A national framework for recovery-oriented mental health services: Guide for practitioners and providers 2013)

So how can this definition translate into a scheme demanding a permanent, or likely to be permanent, disability? Surprisingly it does. The language is initially unfortunate for people living with mental ill health; however the concept of recovery can be applied as a participant in the NDIS.

Many people living with psychosocial disability describe goals and aspirations to develop confidence, control and purpose in their lives. Recovery is making these goals happen despite the challenges a psychosocial disability can bring. The provision of funding to assist people living with mental ill health through psychosocial support packages will promote the goals and aspirations of participants, while making sure needs are met.

Choice & Control

A very important fact to remember is that under the scheme people wanting to access services will be in control of the services they receive, who provides those services and when they are delivered. This will empower people with psychosocial disabilities to be the designer of their own lives, which is something to be excited about!

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