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12th Apr 2011

Most of us, as a society, are aware that severe cuts are to be made to manage the undeniable deficit that our country is attempting to curb and control. As a consequence, many of the most vulnerable and isolated individuals that exist within that society will be subjected to what is termed as ‘reassessment’ of their monetary support, provided by the benefit system. In particular, Incapacity Benefit will undergo a radical overhaul. Yet, it is precisely this retesting of need that will provoke and stimulate intense anxiety from those who suffer, and endeavour to live with serious mental illness. I am not referring to conditions such as ‘mild depression,’ which in many cases can be successfully treated, by way of therapy, medicinal treatments and physical activity. Rather, I am most concerned that those who endure the misery of illnesses that can last a lifetime, such as schizophrenia, (which I suffer from, amongst other conditions,) bi-polar disorder, or personality disorders, will plunge over the edge into further and increased misery. How can an individual who suffers from the often turbulent aspects of severe mental illness be expected to be consistent and reliable in a place of work, where rigidity and consistency are required?
Such is the often random nature of these illnesses, the sufferer has to learn to live and adapt to each and every day, as their manifestations can savage and attack the psyche, resulting in destructive, unpredictable behaviour. To live with the relentless, persecutory voices and visions, or massive, uncontrollable mood swings can bring about despair, and in extreme cases, the brutal reality of suicide. The added pressure of ‘reassessment,’ particularly if the individual is incoherent, for example, or simply unable to express and describe their own particular pain, could be enough to potentially cause their chronic state to flare up and exacerbate their condition. Such are the complexities of the myriad disorders, and the effect on the lives of those who suffer from them, we, as a society must bring compassion and constructive support to help them live from day to day. If the ‘reassessment’ approach is truly necessary, then the people responsible for their implementation must be aware, and sensitive to the needs of those they are evaluating. We, as a majority, are not ‘work shy,’ but rather, struggling with enormous and complex problems, from which we cannot escape.
The threat of losing part of one’s financial security, and being forced to work in environments that cause these disorders to proliferate, is not the answer. From the potential employer’s perspective also, they could not be expected to sustain an unreliable member of their workforce. It would not make sound economical sense. There needs to be a far more flexible, forward thinking and supportive ethos as we face the reality that many, who live in extreme mental pain, are unable to commit to regular employment. To be encouraged to develop new skills, to be creative, and perhaps one day, a time may come when our society will meet the very real challenge of the deep problem of how to support those with serious, debilitating, mental illness.

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