Project to link gender, mental health and disability

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