Development of a new National Women’s Health Policy Consultation Discussion Paper 2009

5.2.2.5 Women who have a disability including mental illness

Page last updated: 20 April 2009

Australian women with a disability, that is `having...impairments, activity limitations or participation restrictions that have lasted, or are likely to last, for at least six months and that restrict everyday activities', are a diverse group, with varying disabilities and health needs.171

In 2003, 20.1 per cent of Australian females had a disability, with the majority being under 65 years.172
Disease, illness or hereditary factors were the leading known causes of female disability in 2003, while accident and injury were the leading causes for males.

In 2003, around 1 in 20 Australians had a psychiatric disability (5.8 per cent of females) and anxiety and depression were the leading causes of burden of disease in females (10 per cent of the overall burden of disease for Australian females).173

Violence against women significantly impacts on women's mental health. A study which used Australian Longitudinal Study of Women's Health data found that women who had experienced intimate partner violence were twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness.174

The ageing of the population is leading to increasing numbers of older people with a disability, and this is particularly impacting on women, as much of their increased life expectancy is now being spent with profound or severe limitation.175

In 2003, Australian women who were over 80 years old were twice as likely as men to experience severe or profound disability. For older Australians, limitations in functioning are more likely to be associated with cardiovascular diseases, stroke, cancers, dementia, and hearing and vision impairments.176

People with a disability are more likely than other Australians to experience socioeconomic disadvantage, social isolation, reduced access to services and inadequate health care.177 Some of the barriers to accessing health care services are outlined in the next section.