In 2017, Sandra Diminic and her colleagues from the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research published a landmark report that quantified the economic value of Australia’s hidden workforce of unpaid mental health Carers. In 2015, at least 240,000 mental health carers in Australia provided an estimated 208 million hours of informal care, at a replacement cost of $13.2 billion.
In their new report, they advance these findings through a detailed exploration of the disadvantage faced by mental health carers in accessing employment on an equal footing to other Australians, and an examination of the specific barriers many have to workforce participation.
The findings in this latest report are sobering. Mental health carers are significantly more likely not to be employed compared to working age non-carers. Young carers face specific and acute disadvantage, with almost 13% of children aged 5-14 with mental health caring responsibilities not attending school. It is vital that these young carers be identified, and that they receive appropriate support at home and in school, to mitigate against a lifetime of economic and social disadvantage.
The data also indicates cause for cautious optimism. Over 97% of employed primary mental health carers have special working arrangements available, indicating at least partial recognition of their intrinsic value in the workplace by their employers.
The data also points to a potential roadmap for meaningful policy intervention. Over 40% of carers who are not employed would like to work while caring. Better identification mechanisms, and targeted programs to support them in the full complexity of their lives are urgently needed.