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People with Mental Health Problems – Sick, Stupid, Scroungers or Stigmatised, Smart, Super-heros?


I have been reading a lot of posts and news about benefits and mental health in the past week or so. There seems to be a lot of controversy about the validity of those with mental health accessing state support and the government and media are not doing much to help give a fair view of the situation. To be honest I am not feeling much hope or optimism after reading all these things…

From articles in the Daily Fail such as this one which states along with using triggering imagery said things like

One of the big costs of mental illness is welfare benefits. But because someone is mad need not mean they are incapable of working

That article was excellently reviewed by Zarathustra over at The Not So Big Society, so I’m not going to go into detail of it here as there is so much else I need to include in this piece, needless to say it was a very triggering article by the Daily Fail made worse by the apparently ‘helpful’ title of ‘Breaking Mental Health Taboo’ they proceeded to continue to add to the stigmatization of mental illness, making out that we are all just crazy scroungers.

A few days after The Not So Big Society featured another article about considering alternatives proposed increases in benefits written around news in a BBC article.  z3r00n3 that post author commented that:

People with severe mental illness that I know receive higher rate care and lower rate mobility for DLA, this adds up to a grand total of £93.15 per week. Not a lot to live on when, according to Rentright.com, the average monthly rent for a one bedroom property is £852 per month!

Now while I am concerned about people not getting the benefits to which they are or should be entitled I had to voice up about this statement being a little off the mark, and so I left  this comment on the post…

I have to say that this give a bit of a false impression of how little income someone on benefits may have…having been there myself. When I was caring for my husband (who had a brain tumour) he was on this rate of DLA, but you don’t JUST get the DLA, you also get (depending on your circumstances) JSA, ESA or in our case Income Support, then you also get Housing and Council Tax benefit, as there were 2 of us and 2 children we also got ICA (carers allowance for me as his carer) and child benefit/tax credits. As my son also received the same rate of DLA for his Autism/ADHD/Epilepsy/Dyspraxia (etc) this meant a grand total of over £2000 (closer to £2500) per month income, which after utility bills was entirely a disposable income!! (no rent/council tax to pay due to the benefits)

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying everyone on benefits gets such a massive income (I did explain why we got so much – 2 disabled people in same household) but there is a need to show it is not just DLA that people get.

Now, should the DLA recipient be single of course the total income will be lower; have no kids – lower; also should this person be working their total income may actually be lower again, but there is a good chance that they are doing quite well financially. And top up benefits such as child and working tax credits can help when people are working.The real problems kick in when people are told they cannot get the help…

After my husband died our household income went down by over £1000 per month! Later I was diagnosed with BPD and have been having a really bad time, to the point I left work recently, now I am entitled to nothing, I can’t claim ESA/JSA or IS as I have a new partner with his own income, and my GP will not support my DLA claim saying I ‘want’ but do not ‘need’ the help I specified in the claim pack – so overall having a mortgage, council tax, both my children still at home, my partners children living with their mothers, we now end up much worse off than when I lived on benefits with my husband (also I didn’t want to be n benefits then and chose to take a drop in income by working rather than stay on benefits entirely).

Those who work (especially part-time) are actually more likely to be worse off than those who are living entirely off benefits, the only ones worse off on benefits are those not claiming all they should be.

I’m no having a moan at people on benefits; I was one for a long time, with good reason due to my husband and sons conditions. But, seriously how many wages get increased by 5.2% in line with inflation?

And as for average monthly rent, maybe based on London pricing £852 is a one bedroom property, but where I live you can get a 3/4 bed house for that amount!

Despite all this I’m not saying that freezing/cutting benefits is something that should occur as many vulnerable people really need these safety nets, but there are also those smart enough to know how well off you can be, who abuse the system, while the most needy, unaware of how much they should/could be getting are the ones struggling!

The real thing that needs to happen is to find those people who are not getting all they are entitled to – and they are unlikely to come forward given they don’t know they are missing out or maybe (due to mental/physical health problems) just don’t want to make a fuss/complain about how little income they have, but as with all government institutions the different arms of the benefit system work separately, independently and do not communicate (unless someone is overpaid and they want money back!) so they do not inform people that they should also be getting X/Y/and Z because they are getting A/B and C.

So in summary the following needs to happen:
– help for those that need it, not GP’s preventing them getting help
– deal with people abusing the system
– find people who are not claiming all they should be

As for raising/cutting/freezing benefits, wouldn’t the fairer thing be to alter them in line with wages? which while I don’t know the average increase (ignoring anomaly’s such as directors 1000% increases), I do know that no-one I know has had anywhere near 5.2% pay increase, 2.5% would be a huge bonus for most of them as even that is more than they would normally get!

On The Not So Big Society yet another post caught my attention this one about the Panorama programme ‘Britain on the Make’. Here  ermintrude2 analysed the programme as:

…not a programme concerned with fair-minded assessment of facts. It was a programme built on hyperbole, stigma and misinformation by deliberately blurring lines between ‘disability related’ benefits when there are significant differences (and eligibility criteria) between those benefits.

This was closely followed by a disturbing piece by the same author about the tragic suicides of  Mark and Helen Mullins where it would appear a catalogue of deficiencies in health, social and welfare support contributing to this couple deciding death was a better option than living – a thought many with mental health issues can empathise with, we often feel like that is the best/only way out! As ermintrude2 says:

Ultimately, it is tragic. This should not happen. There may be many issues we don’t know about but this is not a society that I want to live in. We must protect and support the right to welfare without stigma and we must be aware of the chipping away of social services support from all angles.

Then came two more personal accounts which struck many a chord with me…

Firstly PurplePersuassion discussed returning to work and the benefits system and how  Work Capability Assessments and Employment Support Allowance Limited Capability for Work Questionnaire Assessments fail to cover mental health issues in a way that would allow people such as her and myself to access any financial support for our conditions as she says:

The descriptors which are intended to apply specifically to mental health conditions show very little appreciation of the complexity of many illnesses. For example, to score even the minimum points for coping with social engagement due to cognitive impairment or mental disorder, the claimant has to demonstrate that, “engagement in social contact with someone unfamiliar to the claimant is not possible for the majority of the time due to difficulty relating to others or significant distress experienced by the individual.” Well, what about people who can manage “social engagement” one day, but not the next? Those whose conditions fluctuate, or worsen when exposed to a trigger, perhaps with very little warning for the sufferer? What about people who can “engage in social contact” more often than not, but whose illness, when it flares up, is so acute that being in the workplace would be disastrous? All of this is why the Citizen’s Advice Bureau stated as long ago as March 2010 that the WCA system fails claimants, especially ones with mental health difficulties.Mind has expressed concern about claimants being assessed by people with little or no training in the area of mental health, and conducted a survey among benefits claimants which found very high levels of anxiety (89%) that people would be forced back to work before they were ready.

And the same applies to Disability Living Allowance Claim forms, and as I found even if you manage to answer the questions to a passable level you need someone to support your claim and I did not have this, as I wrote in my reply to Purple’s post:

I daren’t even look at ESA as an option. I know that some days I am not ready to be working yet – damn leaving the house unless I have to is not even a choice – I just wont do it! But I want and need the financially security of work, sure I could have stayed where I was, but the stigma & discrimination (even if only from a single source) was just putting my anxiety levels through the roof. I couldn’t get DLA as my GP told them I ‘want’ but don’t ‘need’ the help stated in my claim and I know I wouldn’t score 15 points on the ESA tests (unless I put my hip out again by doing the splits the night before – might pull in some physical scoring then, but that would be cheating!). So as it stands I am entitled to nowt, zip, zilch, zero so regardless of capability, motivation or wellness another job is the only option for me :/

And finally we have Clarissa’s post on Just Difficult which extends the discussion further to how those of us who are blogging about our mental health problems are amongst those even less likely to receive support, but in and out of the benefits system as Clarissa says;

In fact, it is difficult to find any word associated with low intelligence that doesn’t carry a vague whiff of insult.  But, it seems that despite much evidence to the contrary, most people still associate mental illness with low intelligence…

…authorities are more convinced of mental illness by clients who show low intelligence, it got me thinking about whether I have had personal experience along these lines.

And

…that to seem credibly ill, you need to appear to be very obviously incapacitated – not just physically, but mentally.  She cited several cases of people with severe mental illnesses who are highly intelligent and articulate, who have been actively discriminated against because of being intelligent and articulate on the day of their assessment.   My own example, in writing this post, proves that I’m both intelligent and articulate.  I can use a computer, I can type, my educational level is very high.  What it doesn’t show is that last night I had palpitations for four hours, a panic attack when I went to bed, and serious thoughts of suicide when I woke up this morning.  Nor does it reflect that for several months, I was barely able to write anything because I was so ill that I couldn’t focus.

I feel so saddened by this situation, and if I have to, I will try to help us both by standing my ground. Even if I could find a job, how long could I sustain it for without bursting into tears with exhaustion, or because someone gets impatient with me for forgetting something crucial?

But, for now perhaps it is better that I pretend to want to amount to nothing, aspire to be nobody and rubbish all the years of hard work and faith that others have shown in me? Perhaps I would be more credible if I layered it on thick? If I started to babble nonsense, or wander the streets naked? Or perhaps I’ll slit my throat and contrive a holiday in the looney bin?

I must just make sure that I mustn’t be too clever about it all: clever people don’t have the ability to be depressed… Oh dear: look at how much I wrote… Looks like I’m fucked.

All in all I have been very disturbed by all of these posts. They make me feel lost, small, confused and a failure. My biggest ability (intelligence) is almost acting as my biggest disability, preventing me from accessing an array of support that might otherwise come much more easily. And in my desire not to be financially dependent on my partner or the state I am potentially setting myself up for another epic fail in trying to go back to work before I am capable (look what happened  when I last returned t work!?).

So where does that leave people like me, Purple, Clarissa and my many other blogging mentalist friends? Just in writing about our problems we a demonstrating our intelligence, could our writing’s be used against us in to prove we do not ‘need help and support’ whether emotionally, financially or otherwise. After all we are unlikely to write when we are at our worst, but many of us schedule posts well in advance, so if we have a bad day sat in the bathroom crying and cutting, unable to wash,eat or do anything no-one is any the wiser as we don’t publish those things – we write about the things people want to read and that will help, support and inspire other with similar concerns. Even if we are wallowing in self-pity and think it’s time to put that noose around our necks, we keep it quiet…

In our writing we are hiding as much as we reveal, but who really notices anyway, who but those of us suffering these issues even read what we write!? We are together, alone…

Thank you for reading!  If you have enjoyed reading this post please share it with others who may be interested and I always enjoy receiving feedback and comments :)



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8 comments on “People with Mental Health Problems – Sick, Stupid, Scroungers or Stigmatised, Smart, Super-heros?

  1. Im to,rn on this topic. I think its hugely important that mental illness is regarded as equally debilitating as some physical illnesses. But on the other hand, i do think its hugely important to realise that working can be massively benificial to those suffering from some mental difficulties. For self esteem, self worth, social inclusion, purpose, a reason to get up in the mornings, confidence, and mostly to keep busy. From my own experience, being out of work only makes things more difficult. It allows me to wallow in self pity, it allows me to feel further worthless and gives me far too much time on my hands. And yet i know that sometimes, it can seem physically impossible to drag myself through a working day. So i dont have a set opinion.

    But i do think its ridiculous that the UK benifit system means that so many people are better off financially if they do not work. There are many who want to work, and simply cannot afford to, especially when they have children.

    Thanks for this post, i found it very thought provoking. x

    • I know what you mean about being torn.
      I have struggled with the feeling of disgrace and hopelessness I had whilst living on benefits for all the time I was with my husband, going to work was a blessing.
      But, now I am not really fit for work I am struggling with the notion of coping without benefits and relying on my current partner to the point I would rather take a job and make myself more ill than fight for welfare support that isn’t forthcoming.
      For a long time I battled with benefits agencies telling me I shouldn’t go to work as I would be worse off financially – my answer was always “I DONT CARE, I WANT to work!!”
      Now I just can’t make up my mind, some days I would love to be at work, others I just want to disappear… :0
      xx

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  3. thought provoking – I cannot comment on mental health issues but I have in the past struggled with obtaining the benifits my bedridden mother and my disabled sister were entitled to – to the extent in my sisters case in checking Hansards parlimentary papers for the legal aspects and being willing to take the refusal to appeal- but for those who can’t fight/dont know their way around the maze/ just feeling to darned ill to fight I weep.

    all the best

    • Indeed the benefits system is a nightmare to navigate and sometimes the very people most in need don’t get anything as they don’t know they are entitled, cannot or do not know who to ask for help and no-one tells them they have an entitlement and like you say just an inability to fight. Mean while there others know how to manipulate the system and get things that in reality they should not be entitled to. :(

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