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.

If you want to get involved, you can become a volunteer in our Compeer Friendship Program that operates in ACT, NSW, QLD and VIC. You can also volunteer for a host of other services that we offer.

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.

Vinnies is also committed to a harm minimisation policy in regards to poker machines and is a member of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce. We have made submissions to government that mandatory pre-commitment technology and maximum $1 bets are necessary to reduce the harm caused by gaming machines, which are the prime source of problem gambling in Australia.

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.

In line with our support for the social determinants of health, Vinnies has campaigned to reduce the cost of bandages and treatment for people who have chronic wounds. This comprises around 270,000 Australians, many of whom are elderly and surviving on low incomes. Read more about why Vinnies thinks bandages and compression materials should be covered on Medicare or the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.

Vinnies also supports efforts to empower people to quit smoking. In 2011, the Australian Government placed quitting medications on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, yet they are still believed to be under utilised by disadvantaged groups whose smoking rates are twice as high as those who live in affluent areas. Vinnies supports the National Preventative Health Agency recommendations to take a non-judgemental and holistic approach to people wishing to quit smoking. An article published in the Summer Record 2013-14 included a case study on the success of a smoke-free service in South Australia called The Woolshed .