Objectives: To estimate the prevalence of mental disorders among Australian income support recipients in 2007, and to evaluate whether this has changed over the past 10 years.
Methods: Analysis of data from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (NSMHWB), a nationally representative survey of 8841 community-dwelling residents. The data were used to estimate and classify those working-age survey respondents who were income support recipients into categories reflecting major payment types, and to estimate the 12-month prevalence of affective, anxiety and substance use disorders. Data from the 1997 NSMHWB were also used for comparison.
Results: The 12-month prevalence of mental disorders among working-age recipients was 34% compared to 20% for non-recipients. Rates of mental disorders were elevated among all categories of income support recipients, including the unemployed, lone parents, partnered parents, and those classified as receiving disability payments. There were limited differences between the results from the two surveys. A marked increase in the prevalence of mental disorders in partnered parent recipients (from 21% in 1997 to 39% in 2007) seemed due to methodological differences in the estimation of income support categories and likely reflected greater accuracy of the 2007 estimate.
Conclusions: Income support recipients are much more likely to experience mental disorders than those not receiving payments and there has been little change in the strength of the association between income support receipt and mental disorders over the past decade. Mental disorders represent a substantial barrier to work, community engagement and social participation. A greater focus on mental health in the design and delivery of social policy and services may be an appropriate strategy to promote more positive outcomes in areas such as welfare, employment and social inclusion.