Understanding the contributions and service needs of unpaid mental health carers

Understanding the contributions and service needs of unpaid mental health carers


From 2015-18, Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR) was commissioned by Mind Australia to undertake a comprehensive research program to address evidence gaps in understanding the roles and needs of Australia’s unpaid carers for people with mental illness. The objectives were to:

  1. Describe mental health carers’ characteristics and caring roles.
  2. Estimate the economic value of informal mental health care.
  3. Review current government spending on mental health carers.
  4. Identify mental health carers’ use of and unmet needs for support services.
  5. Explore factors associated with mental health carers’ employment which might be targets to improve their labour force participation.

To address the research aims, the QCMHR team analysed national surveys, administrative data on carer services, designed and conducted a national survey of mental health carers, and produced an economic model. QCMHR researchers worked in partnership with Mind Australia, project advisory groups and carer support organisations to share the project results in summary reports and presentations.


Two resulting reports The economic value of informal mental health caring in Australia (2017) and pdf Understanding factors associated with Australian mental health carers’ employment (6.30 MB) (2018) explore the situation of one of Australia’s most significant ‘hidden workforces’. The 2017 report revealed the enormous economic value of unpaid carers to the Australian community. In 2015 there were approximately 2.7 million informal health carers, of which an estimated 10% were mental health carers. The total annual replacement cost for the unpaid support provided by mental health carers alone would have been $13.2 billion. The second report highlighted the significant disadvantages carers face in accessing formal employment. It was found that 42% of adult mental health carers are not in the workforce compared to only 24% of adults without caring responsibilities, despite many wanting to work. Young mental health carers were also disadvantaged, with fewer engaged in study or work compared to other young people.

As a result of these findings, Mind Australia’s coalition campaign Caring Fairly is advocating for fairer government policies to improve the situations of health carers, as they take on a vital and indispensable role in the Australian community.


A profile of Australian mental health carers, their caring role and service needs: results from the 2012 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers. https://dx.doi.org/10.1017%2FS2045796018000446

Hours of care and caring tasks performed by Australian carers of adults with mental illness: Results from an online survey. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10597-018-0244-x

Quantifying the size of the informal care sector for Australian adults with mental illness: caring hours and replacement cost.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-020-01868-y

Investment in Australian mental health carer services: how much and does it reflect evidence of effectiveness? https://doi.org/10.1071/ah18065

Impact of the carer on length of hospital stay for mental health: Results from two Australian surveys. https://doi.org/10.1111/inm.12543

Employment disadvantage and associated factors for informal carers of adults with mental illness: are they like other disability carers? https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6822-1

Caring hours and possible need for employment support among primary carers for adults with mental illness: results from an Australian household survey. https://doi.org/10.1111/hsc.12811

Project team
Sandra Diminic
Emily Hielscher
Meredith Harris
Yong Yi Lee
Jan Kealton
Harvey Whiteford

Contact for enquiries
Dr Sandra Diminic



Level 3, Dawson House
The Park Centre for Mental Health Treatment
Research and Education, Wacol, QLD 4076
P: +61 7 3271 8704


In the spirit of reconciliation, the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR) acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the lands in which QCMHR operates and their continuing connections to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and stand together with all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.