National mental health report 2013

Indicator 1a: Participation rates by people with mental illness of working age in employment: general population

Page last updated: 2013

Key messages:

  • In 2011-12, 62% of working age Australians with a mental illness were employed, compared to 80% of those without a mental illness.
  • Employment participation rates for this group ranged from 52% in Tasmania to 73% in the Australian Capital Territory.
  • Nationally, employment rates for this group decreased slightly from 64% in 2007-08 to 62% in 2011-12.
Mental illness can reduce participation in the workforce in two broad ways. For those in employment, untreated mental illness can diminish engagement and activity in the workplace. Annual losses to national productivity caused by untreated mental illness in the Australian workforce have been estimated at $5.9 billion.33

For those not in the workforce, mental illness can act as a barrier to gaining or holding a job. Additionally, the absence of meaningful vocational roles can compromise recovery from mental illness through the associated impacts of social exclusion, welfare dependency, unstable housing and long term poverty.

An increasing body of evidence is accumulating that suggests that vocational outcomes for people affected by mental illness can be improved substantially, leading to better health outcomes.

Using data from the 2011-2012 National Health Survey (NHS) component of the Australian Health Survey (AHS),34 Figure 44 shows that the 2011-12 employment rate for Australians aged 16-64 years with a self-reported mental illnessD was 62%, only three quarters of the rate for people without a mental illness (80%). Employment rates for people with mental illness varied across states and territories, ranging from 52% in Tasmania to 73% in the Australian Capital Territory.

Lower employment rates should not be taken as an indicator that people with a mental illness cannot or do not wish to work. Additional 2011-13 AHS data indicate that 6% of people with a self-reported mental illness are unemployed (that is, they are not currently working but actively searching for work). This is double the percentage of people without a mental illness who are unemployed (3%).

The data also show that many working age Australians with a self-reported mental illness (32%) are not participating in the labour force (that is, they are neither employed nor looking for work), compared to 17% without a mental illness. Reasons for this are many, but include impaired capacity to work arising from the mental illness. In 2011, people with a mental illness comprised the largest proportion (30%) of the 820,000 Australians receiving a Disability Support Pension (DSP).35 This equates to 16 in every 1,000 adults of working age being on a DSP due to mental illness. Rates vary across the states and territories.

Comparison of data from the 2007-08 NHS36 and 2011-12 NHS in Figure 45 shows that, nationally, employment rates for working age people with a mental illness decreased slightly from 64% in 2007-08 to 62% in 2011-12. However, the amount and direction of change varied across states and territories, with employment rates increasing in New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

A major driver of employment participation rates among people with a mental illness is severity of disorder. A report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed that 49% of people with a severe disorder were employed, compared to 72% with a moderate disorder, and 81% with a mild or no mental disorder.37

Mental disorders make the largest contribution of all the major health conditions (cancer,cardiovascular, major injury, mental disorder, diabetes, arthritis) to health-related labour force non-participation rates. Averting the impact of mental illness has the greatest potential to lift labour force participation rates.38 A body of evidence is now available to show that vocational outcomes for people with mental illness can be improved through the introduction of models of supported employment.39 The optimal model of such interventions is an evolving science currently being debated by employment specialists. Top of page

Figure 44: Percentage of people aged 16-64 years who are employed, nationally and in each state and territory, by mental illness status, 2011-12

Refer to the following table for a text equivalent of Figure 44: Percentage of people aged 16-64 years who are employed, nationally and in each state and territory, by mental illness status, 2011-12

Text version of figure 44

NSW (%)Vic (%)Qld (%)WA (%)SA (%)Tas (%)ACT (%)NT (%)National (%)
People without a self-reported mental illness
79
81
82
82
79
76
86
85
80
People with a self-reported mental illness
65
59
58
65
61
52
73
63
62
Top of page

Figure 45: Percentage of people with a mental illness aged 16-64 years who are employed, nationally and in each state and territory, 2007-08 and 2011-12

Refer to the following table for a text equivalent of Figure 45: Percentage of people with a mental illness aged 16-64 years who are employed, nationally and in each state and territory, 2007-08 and 2011-12

Text version of figure 45

NSW (%)Vic (%)Qld (%)WA (%)SA (%)Tas (%)ACT (%)NT (%)National (%)
2008
79
81
82
82
79
76
86
85
80
2012
65
59
58
65
61
52
73
63
62

Footnote

D The approach to identifying mental illness used in the National Health Survey is based on the respondent self-reporting that he or she has a mental or behavioural problem that has lasted, or is likely to last, for six months or more. This approach yields lower prevalence estimates of mental illness than methods that rely on independent assessment against objective criteria (14% in 2011 compared with 20% found in the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing of the adult population), because it does not include people who experience milder forms of mental illness that resolve within a six month period. See Appendix 2 for further details.