Two adult women talk while eating seated lunch at a picnic table in a park setting. Vinnies impact on health matters

People experiencing poverty and those at risk of homelessness may suffer multiple types of health-related disadvantage, such as poor physical health, mental illness issues and addiction. Vinnies is concerned with all areas of health, but the primary focus is the health of the most disadvantaged.

Understanding mental health

The majority of the work Vinnies does with health is with people living with a mental illness. Vinnies actively works to achieve greater acceptance for these people by challenging community attitudes that stigmatise and ostracise people through ignorance and fear. Almost half of Australians between 16 and 85 have experienced mental health issues at some point in their life. Mental illness can severely limit an individual’s ability to relate to and interact with their family, friends and the broader community. It can also make maintaining employment and undertaking day-to-day activities difficult. People with mental illness often experience significant distress and disability.

At Vinnies, we work directly with those experiencing mental health difficulties, helping them to reconnect with the community. Our Compeer program is an internationally recognised and award‑winning volunteer program that helps people with mental illness through friendships and support. The program also helps to break down the stigma associated with mental illness. Compeer matches volunteers in one-to-one friendship with people who have become socially isolated due to mental illness. In Western Australia, the Society run Vincentcare, which offers accommodation and support to people with a lived experience of severe and enduring mental illness or homelessness.

Vinnies working with addiction

Addiction refers to a range of behaviours, from smoking, to substance misuse, to gambling. Vinnies offers a range of services designed to assist people vulnerable to various kinds of addictions. We primarily assist people with gambling and substance misuse addictions. Our programs include counselling as well as access to professional service providers and long term programs.

People suffering from substance misuse can access a range of services including those designed to assist with a dual-diagnosis (a mental illness co-occurring with substance addiction). Vinnies operates from the perspective that holistic treatment works best and often the first priority in recovering from addiction is to remove the substance from the person. From here clients can then start exploring, identifying and facing up to any underlying issues that have either caused or contributed to their addiction.

Vinnies provides a suite of support services for people seeking relief from gambling addiction. Some services offer individuals face-to-face counselling, referrals and support to family members. Certain services are free of charge for people with gambling problems and their families. Counselling can aid you to either cut back or stop gambling altogether. We address issues that helped contribute to gambling becoming an issue.

Social determinants of health

The social determinants of health are the social inequalities that are highly correlated with and causative of health problems.  Social determinants are the types of social problems Vinnies is already working to address, such as housing, income insecurity, poor access to education and disadvantage. Public health research has shown that these social issues are the primary cause of health problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.  Health is now understood to follow a social gradient. If we think of this ‘gradient’ as a ladder, people in disadvantaged groups are on the lower rungs and struggle to move up the ladder.

For over a decade the World Health Organisation has been challenging governments to address the social determinants of health. In Australia, interest in this area has grown considerably with a Senate Inquiry into the Social Determinants of Health, and the establishment of the Social Determinants of Health Alliance (SDOHA) in 2013. Vinnies is one of 70 member organisations that form the Alliance. Linking health to welfare and disadvantage opens new doors for policy change. Vinnies believes that the community services sector and public health researchers and practitioners can achieve exponentially more than either can on their own.

Learn more

For more information read our latest media releases.

Read our submissions

Submission to the Productivity Commission’s draft mental health report

February 10, 2020

St Vincent de Paul Society has prepared a submission to the Productivity Commission’s draft mental health report. The submission calls for a clear, national vision on mental health.

Submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into COVID-19

June 5, 2020 - 10:44am

This submission outlines the impact of the pandemic on the Society’s operations, including what worked well and what should be done by governments to manage the transition from lockdown to an easing of social isolation.