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Tips to prevent accidently institutionalising NDIS psychosocial participants

Being able to live, work, love and play in our own community, not within services, is a basic human right.

Most people think about institutionalization where people considered mentally ill were locked away from society, as being something we left behind many years ago. While we have made progress since those dark times, there is still a long way to go before all people with a psychosocial disability experience full citizenship and belonging.

There are many pitfalls that help providers and help seekers can fall into that create something know as modern institutionalisation.

Modern institutionalisation is when help seekers live in the community, but only interact within segregated parts of the community.

Natural connections are replaced with paid workers and other people labeled clients or participants.   Hobbies are limited to only those offered by services. Groups of people and their paid help providers go out into the world in buses and minivans, they may be in the community, but never really become part of the community

Modern institutionalisation de-skills, segregates and stigmatizes people all while keeping them so busy and comfortable they don’t even realize that it’s happening.

It is perfectly natural and healthy for help seekers to enjoy some comradery and peer support among others who are going through similar struggles. There is nothing wrong with a help seeker attending some activities like this in an otherwise full and active community life.

However, when this is the only form of connection a person has, it causes significant harm.

People who have been subjected to modern institutionalisation, tend to find it difficult to make connections within their natural community. They often feel less safe or unaccepted by the wider community, seeing their programs within services as a safe haven from the outside world.

Modern institutionalisation also creates a false economy, making things cheaper than they would be in the outside world so that help seekers no longer see value in the cost of doing the same thing within the community and paying full price or identifying satisfying activities within their budget.

Modern institutionalisation also prevents service providers from considering it their job to search for low and no cost options in the person’s own local or online communities.

All of these things are pitfalls that keep people trapped in modern institutionalisation and not wanting to leave.

However, this is not due to their disability or illness, it has been created by service providers and it is a harmful practice.

Forming natural connections with people and places in our wider community can be hard and take time and money. It’s true that many people with a disability or illness have limited funds and find it more difficult to get around to access things and opportunities within their community.

In upholding a mind-life way, it is the role of the help provider to support and encourage the person to overcome these barriers rather than create a serviced based offer that circumnavigates them. 

Instead of creating modern initialisation in a person’s life, help providers can:


  • Assist a help seeker to identify barriers to participating in their natural community and work with them to find solutions to those problems. The barriers will be different for each person, so the solutions will also need to be individually tailored.

  • Stop wearing uniforms, lanyards and ID badges and badged cars when we are out in the community with help seekers.  These create a barrier and identify the help seeker as different.

  • Use group programs as a transitional step into the wider community, not a permanent option. Include information on similar offerings available in the community.

  • Help participants of group programs to develop the skills and confidence needed to eventually join in the same activity in their natural community. 

  • Support help seekers to gradually expand their social activities to include wider community opportunities in addition to serviced based offers.

  • Support help seekers to find no or low-cost ways to socialise and contribute to their local community.  This can include Buy Nothing groups, hobby, interest or causes based groups, one off or ongoing volunteering opportunities, free events put on by council or community, educational, cultural, sporting and faith groups.

  • Ensure that group programs have a clear purpose, learning and development focus and connection to the wider community.  People deserve better than a group that exists just to fill in time.

  • Support help seekers to overcome their own self-stigma. Help people identify their strengths and values and what they have to offer others and what they are seeking in making connections with other people in the community.

  • Support help seekers to build up the skills they need to join in community opportunities.  This can be anything from confidence to how to set and maintain boundaries.

  • Encourage help seekers to support each other in joining community opportunities rather than relying on paid providers. This can be less intimidating than going alone and there is someone to debrief with afterwards.

  • Help to build independence.  Explicitly discuss with help seekers how the service group is helpful and whether there are ways that it is inadvertently getting in the way of real community involvement.

  • Believe that all help seekers have a unique combination of personal qualities and interests that will enable them to form connections and friendships in their natural community.

  • Believe that help seekers will one day no longer need the programs and services help providers offer.  Consider how to make the most of the time available and regularly review how every service offering is contributing to this outcome.

  • Receive training on the importance of community and how to identify and link help seekers to people and regular groups in the community, not just make referrals to mental health or psychosocial specific services.

  • Start close to home with help seekers neighbours and neighbourhoods.  Consider walking a few blocks in all directions to discover overlooked opportunities for connection.

If these ideas resonate with you, consider registering for our free Mind-Life workshops coming up in May in Logan and Brisbane.

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