What Is Psychosocial Disability?

Psychosocial disability is one of the most misunderstood areas of disability.   The term psychosocial disability is used to describe the impairments that are the result of a mental health condition. Impairments can include things like difficulty with communication, cognition, planning, goal setting and task management. These impairments will often impact on a person’s functional capacity and result in significant and long term effects on their ability for social, community and economic participation.  

In contrast to some other disabilities, psychosocial disability can be episodic, which means that individuals can experience discrete periods of illness interspersed with periods of reduced impairment. Each episode of illness can differ in type, severity, duration and impact. This results in a persons functional capacity being impacted at different points in time however there is a cumulative impact over a lifetime. 

Individuals living with psychosocial disabilities report facing challenges in several areas including accessing and maintaining employment, education, and social participation opportunities. Stigma, discrimination, and systemic barriers can contribute to reduced opportunities for inclusion and meaningful participation in society. 

Psychosocial disabilities also intersect with other aspects of identity, such as gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geographic location. Marginalized populations, including Indigenous Australians, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and people experiencing homelessness or incarceration, may face additional barriers in accessing mental health support and resources. 

While many mental health conditions have associated psychosocial factors, some condition can have particularly enduring psychosocial impacts. Examples of these conditions include: 


Bipolar disorder  

major and dysthymic depression 

Social phobia 


Obsessive-compulsive disorder  

Personality disorder 

People with psychosocial disability can sometimes have an inability to recognise their own impaired functioning.  

Not everyone with a mental health condition will experience psychosocial disability.  

So How Many People Are Living With Psychosocial Disability in Australia? 


According to the ABS 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) (3), 1.1 million Australians live with psychosocial disability. This is around one quarter of all people living with a disability. 

Of these 1.1 Million, almost two in five (38.8%) had a profound limitation, almost four times the rate of those with other disability (10.5%) 

One in five (20.3%) had a severe limitation, almost twice the rate of those with other disability (12.4%). 

Age Distribution 

Psychosocial disabilities can affect individuals of all ages, from children and adolescents to adults and older adults. While some conditions may manifest in childhood or adolescence, others may develop later in life. The prevalence and impact of psychosocial disabilities may vary across different age groups. 

The ABS 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) (3) found while the rate of psychosocial disability generally increased with age, certain age groups, such as boys aged 0-14 years and women aged 85 years and over, exhibited higher prevalence rates due to specific factors like autism and anxiety-related disorders. 




Recovery in mental health is seen as a journey that is different and unique for everyone. A common description is “being able to create and live a meaningful and contributing life in a community of choice with or without the presence of mental health issues”(1) . This is referred to as personal recovery. Personal recovery is different to clinical recovery which focuses on treatment and reduction of symptoms.  

Personal recovery emphasises empowerment, self-determination, and hope, recognising that recovery is unique to each person and extends beyond mere symptom reduction. Personal recovery focuses on the individual’s strengths, resilience, and capacity for growth, rather than solely on their deficits or diagnosis. It involves setting and pursuing meaningful goals, rebuilding relationships, and finding purpose and fulfilment in life.  

Key elements of personal recovery include gaining insight into one’s experiences, developing coping strategies, accessing support networks, and actively participating in decisions regarding treatment and support. Overall, personal recovery in mental health emphasises the potential for individuals to live meaningful and satisfying lives, even in the presence of mental health challenges. 

Recovery Approach to Mental Health Care 

The recovery approach to mental health is set out in the National framework for recovery-oriented mental health services (1). The recovery approach is a holistic and person-centred framework that focuses on supporting individuals in their journey of recovery from mental health challenges. Unlike traditional models that prioritise symptom management, the recovery approach emphasizes empowerment, hope, and personal agency. It recognises that recovery is a deeply individual process and respects each person’s unique goals, values, and experiences. 

The recovery approach places value on both the personal lived experiences of individuals and the expertise of mental health professionals. This approach emphasises mutual respect and collaboration. Instead of prioritising organisational goals, recovery orientated approaches prioritise the needs of individuals seeking support.  

Recovery orientated practice strives to incorporate the following key fields: 

  • Be hopeful and positive: Create a welcoming and safe environment where everyone feels valued and important. Use encouraging language that promotes optimism and hope. 
  • Focus on the person: Make sure individuals with mental health issues are the main priority. Look at their whole life situation, not just their symptoms. 
  • Support personal recovery: Help individuals lead their own recovery journey. Their goals and needs should guide the support they receive. 
  • Improve organisations and staff: Create work environments that support recovery. Make sure staff are trained and have the right resources to help people on their recovery journey. 
  • Fight stigma and promote inclusion: Stand up for the rights of people with mental health issues. Challenge discrimination and work to improve living conditions that affect recovery. 


Family and carers support

Psychosocial disabilities not only impact individuals but also their families, carers, and support networks. Family members and carers play a crucial role in providing emotional support, advocacy, and practical assistance to individuals living with psychosocial disabilities. 

Therapy and Supports 

Under the NDIS, individuals with psychosocial disabilities can access funding and support tailored to their specific needs. This may include assistance with areas like:  

  • improving or maintaining your functional ability, and your recovery 
  • helping you increase your independence 
  • Helping you increase your social and economic participation. 
  • Assistance with developing everyday life skills like making decisions, planning your day and managing your money 
  • Development of social skills to assist with the formation and management of social relationships and further connect with people and social groups in your community 
  • Behaviour intervention support  

You can learn more about the NDIS supports here.

How Do You Qualify For the NDIS With a Psychosocial Disability? 

To qualify for the NDIS with a psychosocial disability the NDIA requires confirmation that your disability is 

Permanent – will be with you for life 

Significant – Results in substantially reduced functional capacity and capacity for social and economic participation 

Likely to require lifelong support 

In addition to meeting the other NDIS criteria


(1) A National Framework For Recovery-Oriented Mental Health Services: Guide For Practitioners and Providers. 2013.https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/a-national-framework-for-recovery-oriented-mental-health-services-guide-for-practitioners-and-providers 


(2) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Web report. People with Disability. Last updated 05 July 2022. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/disability/people-with-disability-in-australia/contents/people-with-disability/prevalence-of-disability 


(3) Australian Bureau of Statistics. Psychosocial disability This article uses data from the 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) to examine the prevalence of psychosocial disability in Australia. Released 25/09/2020 https://www.abs.gov.au/articles/psychosocial-disability 


(4) Australian Bureau of Statistics. National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Summary statistics on key mental health issues including national and state and territory estimates of prevalence of mental disorders. Reference period 2020-2022. Release 05.10.23 https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/mental-health/national-study-mental-health-and-wellbeing/latest-release