Benefits and Mental Health

Jayne Linney looks at the benefits system and its failure to take account of mental health.

Recently I completed almost two years of Psycho-dynamic Therapy, and after dedicating more than 100 Tuesday afternoons to an intense examination of my life, I am now well enough to stop.

This doesn’t however mean I am ‘cured’ or that my mental health issues have gone, it means I am presently no longer at risk of taking my own life. Therapy has resulted in me relearning how my Depersonalisation and Depression affects me and has given me the confidence to better manage it.

Of the vast amount of knowledge I gained, the bit that I’m sharing here is the reaffirmation that I am – along with every living being – by virtue of my/our existence, Enough. ‘Enough’ may seem a strange word to use, but I struggled to find a term that does not have financial costs associated with it. An online synonym search for ‘valuable’ returned: Precious, Costly, High-priced, High cost, Expensive, Dear, within the first line.

The notion of life having a price goes some way towards explaining the current Government’s rhetoric. When each person apparently has a cost appointed to them it must be remembered that some people are deemed more expensive than others. It is asserted that disabled people cost £570 a month, Taking this a step further, Neoliberal ideology asserts that each person must literally ‘pay their way’ and wherever someone is entitled to financial help from the State, this Price is paramount.

This thinking underpins the persistent discrimination against people claiming benefits and, in particular, disabled people. Claimants are reminded, by the punishing nature of the claims process and via interminable stereotyping in the media, that they are failing to contribute to society. They are the direct opposite of valuable; they are worthless. The seemingly endless assertions of worthlessness certainly amplified my recent descent into severe depression and the descent into poverty that I, and other disabled people are experiencing, will continue to have a negative impact on my mental health.

The worst thing is that this situation is entirely predictable. Research from Sheffield University highlights how living in poverty creates a range of difficulties when accessing support services. These include: the costs of transport and childcare (among other factors) can prevent people from physically attending appointments; vital services in deprived neighbourhoods are consistently underfunded, despite greater demand for them; and, when these services are not forthcoming, the stigma related to mental health stops people from asking for help.

It was a struggle surviving the two year wait for the appropriate therapy and not everyone is as fortunate. An investigation by the BMA in February this year reported that patients with serious mental health issues are waiting up to two years to receive specialist support. The BMA acknowledge that their findings ‘grossly underestimate the full scale of the problem’, which can be blamed, in part, on incomplete records of therapeutic referrals. In “We Still Need to Talk” MIND reported on a survey of 2,000 patients waiting for treatment: “…one in six said they had attempted suicide while waiting for treatment, four in ten said they had self-harmed, and two thirds said their condition had deteriorated”. This research is echoed in the survey conducted by Stem4, which found that one in three teachers have safety concerns over pupils waiting for mental health treatment and that more than half of affected pupils are unable to access appropriate treatment.

I will always have my mental illness but I have rediscovered that I can live with it, without it consuming me and, although I have both physical and mental disabilities, these factors do not define me.

Through therapy I recognised that I had internalised Neoliberal ideology; I had put a price on my own life and found myself lacking. Acknowledging this has given me the tools to address it. I am so fortunate to have had access to the appropriate therapy as it has helped me comprehend the real value of Life as a disabled woman but, more importantly, as me. I have forgiven myself for absorbing such poison but I cannot forgive the authors of this dehumanising rhetoric.



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