Many people in Western Australia are caught in a cycle of being unable to put food on the table or pay rent.
A joint report between Anglicare WA and the Western Australian Association of Mental Health (WAAMH), Poverty & Mental Health: Reducing Systemic Harm to Improve Wellbeing, points to decades of research affirming the causal link between financial difficulties and mental health challenges.
The relationship between financial instability and poor mental health is bi-directional: people experiencing mental health challenges are twice as likely to experience financial troubles, and vice versa.
The research notes that key government policies unintentionally exacerbate problems and outlines recommendations that can lead to better societal outcomes.
“The current rates of income support keep people well below the poverty line, increasing the risk of mental health challenges,” he said.
“The excessively burdensome, complex, and punitive mutual employment obligations place undue hardship and stress on jobseekers.
“The lack of access to early childhood interventions, and a service system that often retraumatises users, place additional barriers in front of people already doing it really tough,” Mr Glasson said.
Taryn Harvey, CEO of WAAMH, said that in addition to adequate income support, one of the best ways to reduce the risk of poverty is employment.
“Solutions lie in government and organisations seeing poverty as a public health issue and redesigning systems to place human dignity at their core,” Ms Harvey said.
“We also know that prevention and early intervention supports such as the Anglicare WA Child Parent Centres (CPCs) improve access to support that is tailored to the needs of parents, families and communities, and leads to positive mental health outcomes.”
The research highlights evidence-based programs such as the Individual Placement and Support model which uses a tailored approach to support individuals to achieve meaningful employment.
The program has been operationalised across 50 headspace sites in Australia and several mental health services in WA and SA with support from the Federal Government.
Putting food on the table
The latest Foodbank Hunger Report, released this week, showed one in three Western Australian households are skipping meals or comprising food choices amid the cost-of-living crisis.
Foodbank WA CEO Kate O’Hara said inflated cost of living is forcing more families to rely on food relief to put meals on the table.
“The rising number of people requiring support is deeply concerning in a country with an abundance of resource, yet Western Australians are under increasing levels of pressure to make ends meet,” Ms O’Hara said.
This year's report found 388,000 households in WA were facing food insecurity, an increase of 80,000 in the past 12 months.
Of these households struggling to put food on the table, 120,000 were families with children.
The participants involved in Foodbank Australia’s annual hunger report said cost of living was the primary reason for food insecurity.
Ms O’Hara said the results were “appalling” and are having a detrimental impact on families and children across the state and country.
“The feeling of hunger has become a familiar one for many,” she said.
Ms O’Hara explained that the government’s stimulus packages handed out during the pandemic helped lift many out of poverty and noted Foodbank’s foot traffic numbers declined during this time.
The numbers of people seeking food assistance, including families with children, has since gone up in correlation with rising cost of living and reduced government support.