Psychiatrists reject plan for mental health curbs on disability support pension


The peak body representing Australian psychiatrists has rejected the proposal that only people with a ”permanent impairment” should get the disability support pension, saying the plan fails to understand the nature of mental illness.The interim report of the McClure welfare review suggested the disability pension should be reserved for people with a permanent impairment and no capacity to work, while other people with disabilities moved to a different working age payment.The report did not define what permanent would mean, but said many mental health conditions are ”episodic in nature” – a concept that has also been used by Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews.In its submission in response to the interim report, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists rejected the idea, saying terms such as ”permanent impairment” and ”episodic disability” create a false dichotomy.”From a psychiatric perspective, this is indicative of a lack of understanding of the complexity of chronic mental illness and the myriad impacts of this on a person’s life and capacity,” the submission says.

It warned that making the DSP available only to those with ”permanent disability” risked leaving a large group of people worse off.The College of Psychiatrists said it was difficult to predict how mental health symptoms would manifest, ”making it problematic for people suffering from mental illness, even if it is ‘episodic’ in nature, to maintain steady employment”.Even between episodes problems could occur, the college said, and people with mental health issues could have physical problems due to the side-effects of medication.The college’s submission comes as the government’s independent mental health advisory body also raised concerns about the proposed changes to the DSP.The National Mental Health Commission said it was important to understand what ”episodic” means. In its submission, chief executive David Butt said a fundamental importance of the McClure review would be to dispel misconceptions about the nature of mental illness.”This does not mean a person is usually ‘well’ and then has episodic illnesses where they have to take time off work,” he said. ”Often a person with mental illness will need considerable (non-clinical) support when they are in the workforce.”The commission suggested having a ”flexible pool” of funds to support people with mental illness, that can be shifted between employment services and welfare payments, to help people move in and out of the workforce.

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