Disability and mental health

Our aim is to improve the situation for people with disability and mental ill-health in Australia and our nearest regions, so they can experience active and meaningful lives as fully included members of the community.

Researchers at the Faculty of Health Sciences achieve this objective by undertaking research that focuses on individual needs, by listening to people and learning from best practice. We strongly value individuals and collaborate with people with disability and mental ill-health to co-create research and develop high quality research evidence which reflects their experiences. Our researchers are strongly connected to practitioners and policymakers working to make change and develop better service responses to meet individual needs.

Our success is measured by the extent that we can help individuals to live well. Researchers from the Centre for Disability Research and Policy make key contributions through the application of research to important national policy developments and inquiries including the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Our faculty-based World Health Organization Collaborating Centre in Health Workforce Development in Rehabilitation and Long Term Care conducts projects such as the provision of on-the-ground training in community-based rehabilitation in the Pacific. This helps to develop a community based, locally relevant approach to rehabilitation which is more meaningful to local communities.

Meet our researchers

Jennifer Smith-Merry

Associate Professor Jennifer Smith-Merry
Research leader

My research interests reflect my strong desire to make life better for people with mental ill-health and disability. Like most people, my life has been impacted by the mental ill-health and suicide of family members and friends, many of whom had been failed by the services and policy frameworks that should have been helping them.

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I work with a multidisciplinary team as well as consumers, policymakers and service providers using a range of research methodologies. The wealth of knowledge this generates is key to understanding and solving complex practice-based problems. For example, I have been collaborating with the NSW Mental Health Commission to access coroner databases to study unintentional mental-health-related deaths. Many of the people whose stories we uncover have no next of kin and very limited social connections. I hope that by understanding the contexts of their deaths, their lives may contribute to improved services for others in similar situations and prevent future deaths.

 Gwynnyth Llewellyn

Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn

Professor of Family and Disability Studies

What drives my research is a passion to overcome negative stereotypes about people with disabilities which prevent them being accepted as full, participating citizens in our society. Exclusion is inequitable, unfair and unjust. The discrimination experienced by people with disabilities in all areas of their lives results in poorer education and employment opportunities and fewer economic or social resources.

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At the Centre for Disability Research and Policy, we are researching inequities in health, employment, housing, violence, gender and public policy and programs across entire populations. This allows us to monitor and report on progress towards realising equity for people with disabilities and their families and, where there is no progress, develop evidence-informed policy solutions to create a fairer society for all.

Our input into the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse highlighted the particular vulnerabilities of children and young people with disabilities to abuse and neglect, and informed the commission’s recommendations about creating child-safe environments for all children, including those with disabilities.

Meet our research students

Sai Soe

Sai Soe

Being a Shann ethnic (minority) in a majority Burmese-dominated country (Myanmar), I’m intrigued by the idea of having universal human rights across all ethnicities and races. Inequality has been the biggest challenge in my country. It has always been an inspiration to seek and advocate for those who are voiceless in their communities.

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In 2008, I started working towards the social inclusion of people affected by leprosy and came to realise how a well-informed community can significantly influence public policy discussions and development. I became a frontline activist for the rights of persons with disabilities in many different public policy discussions.

In 2013, I was awarded an Australian Leadership Award Fellowship by the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. During the three weeks training, I presented a case study which focused on disability-inclusive development policy analysis. This was well received and later accepted as a doctoral research topic. I have also been awarded a full scholarship for my PhD research.

Centre for Disability Research and Policy

This centre brings together the University’s leading expertise within the disability field to create a greater understanding of disability. It also improves disability services and programs by increasing the use of evidence and research in policy decisions in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.