Project to link gender, mental health and disability
The Centre for Women’s Health, Gender and Society is using an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant to reveal an untold story. According to Professor Anne Kavanagh, the Centre’s Director, there has been little Australian research on the mental health of people with disabilities. The Centre’s new research project adds a deeper dimension by examining the importance of gender and socio-economic disadvantage for the mental health of people with disabilities.
“If we can tell a coherent story we can use this as a real way of advocating for change, by providing evidence to support policy and service sector reform,” she says. ”People in the disability sector have been crying out for this kind of information. They have been telling these stories for a long time and to have some empirical evidence can only help in their endeavours.” Collaborating partners in the project are Melbourne Citymission, VicHealth and the Victorian Women With Disabilities Network.
The project also aims to use the ARC’s four-year $200,000 grant to build research capacity in disability-related research and improve the monitoring of disability-related health inequities. “Disabilities have been a forgotten driver of inequality,” Professor Kavanagh says. “Mostly we think of disabilities as the medical condition, a kind of outcome, but I would argue that, for lots of reasons, disabilities are also a cause of poor health.”
People with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty because they have less access to the labour market, are more likely to live in poor quality housing and be unable to use transport, she says. “There’s something about the way society is organised that disadvantages these people in ways that then have important effects on their health.”
Professor Kavanagh says it is very important to maintain a gendered understanding of disability and ill health; the project will explore these links. “We know that women are more likely to have mobility impairments than men, partly because they live longer and are therefore more likely to develop impairments such as osteoporosis, arthritis and vision problems,” she says. “In the general population, we know women are more likely than men to live in poverty, to experience insecure employment and poorer quality housing.”
“The fact that they are more likely to experience both disability and disadvantage is a double whammy for women and likely to be important in describing women’s health.”
The project will mostly draw on existing data sources, including Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys and the longitudinal study of Household Income and Labour Dynamics of Australia (HILDA) Survey. Researchers will also interview people with disabilities.
Professor Kavanagh expects the research results to be “really profound”. “Preliminary analysis suggests that is the case.” She hopes the project will help drive reforms in this area. “There is emerging stronger advocacy for the disability sector and we certainly are getting a lot more advocacy and media attention around mental health. So I think the time is right to push this kind of agenda.”
Caption: Professor Anne Kavanagh