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How Centrelink debt letters are harming Australians' mental health

12 January 2017
Erin Stewart
ABC News

Policies that mitigate the stress of poverty and promote mental health would more effectively reduce the welfare burden than scaring individuals into paying back debts they're unlikely to have.


It's easy to think of mental health issues as individual. They feel personal. You wonder why you're the one who has trouble functioning and you berate yourself for not being able to be as happy as everyone else. 

But these personal struggles are situated in a context far bigger than the personal. The policies that govern our society can have a huge impact on the devastating experience of mental illness.

We've recently been presented with an obvious example of the way policy impacts the mental health of individuals with the Government's move to "recover" Centrelink debts.


The idea that a government agency would cause stress to the point of making people require anti-anxiety medication, or refer them to a suicide prevention hotline as a result of government policy, is shocking.

But it isn't the only example of policy being at least in part responsible for shifts in the mental wellbeing of the population. Research shows that the poorest people in our community are disproportionately affected by mental illness. 

But rather than threatening those who are already among the worst off, implementing sensible policies to raise their quality of life is arguably a better way to reduce the welfare burden.