Thursday, October 6, 2022

Myles’ Blog: “People with mental health issues are not spongers”

Blogger Myles reflects on the vagaries of the Disability Living Allowance

“Life can be extremely hard for someone with a mental health condition. You can’t see a mental health problem and there is no cast or plaster to stick on a mentally unwell mind. If you’re lucky, there may be medication to help alleviate the symptoms of the condition and talking therapies to help you cope emotionally but there is nothing to alleviate the effects of the stigma, the prejudice and the discrimination suffered by the mentally unwell individual.

This discrimination is no greater felt than when one tries to apply for Disability Living Allowance. If one has a physical limitation, the process is easier as the people who perform the medical, if one gets that far, have a visual cue or something measurable to test regarding the suitability for work and the ability to perform everyday functions. Not so for the mentally unwell. How can one prove that one’s mental health issue stops them from engaging in everyday life? It’s not as easy as you may think, especially if you have a cyclical condition such as Bipolar Disorder or Adjustment Disorder, which may leave you with whole periods of time when you can function ‘normally’ and others which leave you in ‘crisis mode’. If one is in a ‘good’ period when one is called for the medical, the individual has no way of proving their disability and the chances of being refused the benefit they need.

There is also the problem of the very name of the benefit. I suffer with Recurrent Depressive Disorder and Adjustment Disorder (Depressive-type) but don’t consider myself to be disabled, although, by the Government’s criteria, I am. So, from the outset, the mentally unwell may believe that they are not entitled to DLA; in fact, that was my belief before someone told me that I was, indeed, entitled to the benefit. I am, at times, able to cope with the voluntary work I do but, at others, I would rather stay buried in my quilt, unable to find the strength to face being around other people or handle the stress of paid employment.

The problem then becomes – how does one prove one’s disability when you cannot see it and it is difficult to explain to someone without one’s condition how it affects one’s life without some common frame of reference? And how does that translate into what will actually fit into the criteria on the gargantuan form one has to fill in?

The difficulty with the DLA form is that one is encouraged to put one’s case in terms of the ‘worst case scenario’, how one is at one’s very worst. This is not conducive to good mental health as mental health services encourage one to look to one’s strengths as a means of building self-esteem and mental well-being. The form, however, has to be filled in and it can completely demoralise a mentally unwell person. The worst, however, is to come. The interminable waiting for the decision from whichever unqualified bureaucrat has been given the power over one.

The waiting, however long, eventually comes to an end in one of two ways – the joy of acceptance or the agony of rejection. And if the answer is rejection, the thoughts rush through one’s mind – Did I not ‘sell’ my problems strongly enough? Am I really not unwell enough? Why did I put myself through all this emotional pain for nothing? – and down one goes into the dark pit of depression and self-loathing.

A decision then has to be made by the rejected claimant – should I appeal? In such a dark place, it takes someone with incredible strength of will or someone who is in blind desperation to go through the appeals process and risk another rejection. If one is lucky, one will find help available to assist them through the appeal process but that help is not necessarily easy to find and the quality of help not necessarily good if you find it.

I can write about this from personal experience as I am one of the people whose claim for DLA was rejected and as someone who is currently awaiting a decision on my appeal and I can say that, as hard as the initial DLA form completion was for my mental health, the letter I had to write asking for an appeal was worse as I had to go into minute detail, going further than I wanted to or dared I should ever have to go, to try to impress upon the bureaucrat, upon whose decision my future hangs, my need and the reasons for it. I had to drag out my suicidal ideations and suicide attempts, my anxiety attacks around groups of people, my personal circumstances upon which my mental health stands on a knife-edge and every single horrifying thought in my head. And I’m still not sure if I’ll get the Disability Living Allowance that, according to the Government’s criteria under the Disability Discrimination Act, I’m entitled to.

The most horrific thing is, I have been told, although this may not actually be true or not actual policy, that most DLA claimants who cite mental health issues as their reason for claiming may be being automatically rejected when they put in their first claim. The reason I was given was that, in this age of austerity, rejecting the initial claims of mentally unwell claimants, thereby dissuading some to appeal, is a good way of making cuts in the benefit bill. How disgusting, how discriminatory!

People with mental health problems are not all simply ‘spongers’, some of us have real needs and would rather work if we could but how many employers would actually want to employ someone who, due to their condition, may not be as reliable as someone less qualified but without a mental health issue? Some of us contribute to society in other ways, such as voluntary work, which is every bit as valuable as the work undertaken by those without our disability. We are not just after hand outs; we are after fair treatment and recognition that our needs are just as valid as those of the physically impaired. All we want is a helping hand so we can get back on our feet and can contribute in whatever way we can.
Until next time…

If you would like to comment on any of my columns, please send them to valen1971@hotmail.co.uk or you can check out my personal blogs at http://valen1971.webs.com/ or http://valen1971.blogspot.com. You can also find me on Twitter (@valen1971).

4 COMMENTS

  1. I have some friends and family with serious mental health conditions and they have been lucky enough to receive sensitive and effective support and help with claiming DLA. This help has been from their Community Psychiatric Nurse, or staff at the hospital where they have been patients.
    I do hope Myles is getting support from someone like this, or from the experienced voluntary organisations who can help.

  2. I had help filling in the DLA form by someone trained in how to fill the form in most effectively. He had a 98% success rate. My claim was rejected.

    My appeal is being supported by an advocate with specialist knowledge of clinical risk assessment/management but I’m still not holding out any hope of success.

    I have had no help at all from mental health services. I’ve no CPN and no care co-ordinator as I’m a ‘higher functioning’ patient.

  3. UPDATE: How ironic! The day my blog about DLA is posted I get the decision on my appeal – another rejection.

    The reports from the psychiatrist and my GP contained factual errors but who’s going to believe me? No-one, that’s who.

    I’m probably going to have the same problem when I’m forced to apply for ESA thanks to the benefit changes. Chalk up another victim for the system.

    Who will mourn for me when I can’t support myself financially? No-one! And there’s a perverse irony in that, isn’t there?

  4. […] is filing for disability in the most efficient way, and being successful at the end of the process.[caption id="attachment_26" align="alignleft" width="183" caption="Filing for Disability"][/caption]…t="filing for disability" width="183" height="275" />[/caption] When filing for disability, there […]

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