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10 October 2021
Jennifer Kirkaldy and her team are advocating for a mental health recovery payment for those needing temporary assistance.
Providing targeted help to support people into employment
Words Simone Worthing
October is National Mental Health Month in Australia. An initiative of the Mental Health Foundation Australia (MHFA), the focus is on advocating for and raising awareness of Australian mental health. The theme of the month is Mental Health: Post Pandemic Recovery Challenges and Resilience.
The Salvation Army is advocating for a specific, and timely, mental health payment for those needing temporary assistance at a particularly difficult time in their lives.
Jennifer Kirkaldy, General Manager Policy and Advocacy for The Salvation Army Australia, recently spoke about such a payment at a public hearing of the select committee for the Inquiry into Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. The hearing took place in the House of Representatives, with several different organisations present.
As an organisation embedded in communities across Australia, Jennifer explained that the Salvos have found that mental ill-health is a factor in every service and every support they provide across Australia. These services include homelessness, family violence, alcohol and other drugs, youth services, chaplaincy, emergency relief, financial counselling, community connection and spiritual support.
“Mental health concerns are both a driver and a consequence of disadvantage,” she said.
Emphasising the unique role the Commonwealth plays in addressing the structural and systemic drivers of mental ill-health in our community – such as suitable housing and adequate income support – Jennifer spoke about the increase in, and heightening of, behaviours that indicate a mental health concern. “We are preparing for it to get a lot worse before it gets better,” she said.
Jennifer also spoke about the hope around addressing and solving issues in the mental health space, despite the challenges faced by people tackling mental illness. She focused on the Productivity Commission’s exploration of a mental health recovery payment and her passion for seeing this become a reality.
“What we find with the people that we work with is that, when they have a significant mental health concern, they’re faced with a really stark choice,” she explained. “They either catastrophise their situation so that they can try and get on the DSP (Disability Support Pension), or they struggle through on JobSeeker … mutual obligations, including a job plan, are still there.
“The best practice around mental health is a recovery model,” Jennifer continued. “It’s to suggest, ‘Right now you can’t work, but with the right supports you absolutely can’. In our work around welfare and jobseekers, the overwhelming message is that people want to work. They want a job. They want to be supported into employment.”
Jennifer explained that the Salvos see the recovery payment or a recovery model working in a way that acknowledges that people can’t work right now, but if a job plan, mutual obligation, support and responsibility are created in a nuanced way that takes into account the impacts of mental health, they will be able to do so in the future.
“It’s very hard to just look at an individual solution to mental health when actually it’s everything that’s structural and systemic around you that is contributing to it,” she said.
“This is about providing targeted and effective support to get people into employment because that’s what they’re telling us they want.”
The Salvos have conducted surveys of the people who access their services and have found that some of the barriers for people with mental health issues trying to find employment include what they have to give up when they’re on such low incomes. These include medications and medical support, psychologist appointments and fresh, healthy food. Transport, stigma, the design of social services and trust are also major factors.
Advocacy for the mental health recovery payment continues.
• The Salvation Army does not directly offer any mental health services.
• Mental ill-health can contribute to a person seeking other supports from the Salvos.
• Experiences of hardship and disadvantage can lead to, or exacerbate, mental ill-health. This includes financial stress, housing stress, family violence and natural disasters.
• The Salvos have been advocating for a recovery-oriented payment for people experiencing unemployment due to mental ill-health. This would allow people to gradually return to the workforce at their own pace, allowing them to focus on getting well.