For people with disability who also experience mental health issues, there can be many barriers to accurately identifying and treating those issues. A recent presentation highlighted the need for a better understanding of disability and mental health.

People with disability have the same range of mental health needs as the general population, but often do not receive the mental health interventions that they need. It is estimated that two in three people with disability do not access mental health services, largely as a result of ‘diagnostic or behavioural overshadowing’. In other words, the mental health problems go undiagnosed or are misinterpreted as a manifestation of a person’s disability, or are labelled as challenging behaviours.

A key issue is that with the low rates of people with a disability accessing mental health care, or being under-treated, there is the potential for mental health problems to become chronic.

Potential barriers to accessing mental health treatment and supports for people with a disability can include the presence of cognitive or severe communication difficulties, lack of awareness of symptoms both by the person or their family/carer(s), stigma and exclusion from services, and limited practical support to access services.

Psychologists Nick Hagiliasis and Mark Di Marco, in their presentation, spoke of the need for the disability and mental health sectors to engage with one another. They called for specialist disability services to be embedded in mental health services, arguing for the two sectors to find a way to communicate and understand differing approaches.

Wellways Australia, incorporating Australian HealthCall Group, which has been providing disability supports to the community for more than 55 years, is now positioned to take on this essential work.