It can take a long time for someone to come to terms with a mental illness diagnosis. It’s also difficult to accept how hard it is to access talk therapy and counselling and waiting lists are long. Symptoms can be debilitating and learning to live with them is draining. Finding the right medication and best dosage is a process that can take months or even years. There’s still stigma and judgement and a lack of awareness, meaning that people living with mental illness can be mistreated, even by the people they are closest to.
I left a job that I was desperately unhappy in this year, because I realised it was about time I put my own mental health first. Don’t get me wrong, all roles have their ups and downs and round and rounds and it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The daily challenges and dear friends I made were part of what kept me there for so long, but it got to a point where every Sunday felt like the last night on earth and I knew that something would have to be done.
Boy, was it the right decision to make. Giving myself space to breathe and to focus on living (rather than just survival), brought me so many opportunities and - most importantly - brought me the peace that I needed to push the limits of my recovery to the next level. Looking back, I can see that I was never going to fully kick the PTSD while I continued to pressure myself into trying to fit somewhere I just didn’t anymore.
While I’ve been focusing wholeheartedly on saving my mind and on keeping myself from hitting a mental health crisis that I was definitely on course for at the beginning of the year, I’ve learned a whole bunch of life-changing stuff about self care and perspective, that has helped me stay afloat. One thing I didn’t manage to accomplish though was finding adequate financial support to help make my life that little bit easier.
Financial Support for those living with Mental Illness
Many of you will have heard of PIP, ESA and Universal Credits (UK) - some of the financial safety nets that are in place to help you support yourself while living with disability. If you’re not sure what monetary support you are entitled to, I’d like to implore you to spend some time filling in this benefits calculator and finding out what help is out there for you. The money you aren’t currently claiming could alleviate some of the pressure you’re feeling right now, not to mention it help you fund the treatment that could save your life.
There are people who can help you.
Accessing the support you need is daunting and can be riddled with triggers. The fear of stigma or rejection is a valid one - of the 122 people who answered my questions about disability benefits on Twitter, only 27% had been successful in securing the financial support they so desperately needed. I don’t know about you, but those odds don’t fill me with the reassurance I had hoped they would.
The comments were full of horrible stories of people being told they were not ill enough, or even finding themselves accused of outright lying about their diagnosis, despite being far too ill to be able to financially support themselves. These are people who are fighting every single day to survive - some are unable to leave their homes - and who are ultimately vulnerable and asking for help. It takes some serious courage to admit to being mentally ill in the first place, seeking help is another HUGE hurdle and it’s simply unacceptable to deny help from people who so desperately need it.
But there was hope too. Overwhelmingly, the success stories came from people who had received help with their applications. Some individuals spoke highly of family and friends who had helped with forms and supported them through the application process; others told tales of organisations (and in some cases - even lawyers) who had helped with theirs. It makes sense to seek help with something so important - ask for advice and get guidance from a support worker or Citizens Advice Bureau if you need it.
For the people who are currently somewhere along this journey, here are some things I have learned about the process so far:
- You can calculate the benefits you are entitled to online - the best calculator I could find was this one from Turn2Us, if you enter your email address you can have the results sent over for you to keep. You can also use this calculator to check how changes in your circumstances may affect any benefits that you are already receiving.
- You can start the application for PIP off by sending a text. I know that calls can be problematic for some of you, please utilise the text message option if you need it. You will need to provide some personal details though, so make sure you have your National Insurance number to hand.
- There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. A trusted adult or support worker can help you with your forms once they arrive. One lady told me that a worker from Mind Charity had helped her along too, there’s always someone you can turn to. You don’t have to do this on your own.
- You can take someone with you to an assessment and if you are unable to attend an assessment, you are able to ask to be assessed in your own home. Again, don’t struggle on your own if you think you will feel more comfortable with some support.
- You can - and should - appeal any decision that you feel has been made unfairly. Sometimes (a lot of the time) support is withheld from people who truly need it, and it’s important that you make sure you challenge a decision that leaves you unable to survive financially. Getting back into work is an admirable goal, but shouldn’t be to the detriment of your health. In theory, we live in a country where help is available to those entitled to it - you are just as deserving as anybody else (you might also be entitled to supplementary income even if you are working, to help cover the costs of living with a disability).
Your illness is valid. It’s OK to be ill. You’re not alone.
I know how devastating it could be to be told that you’re “not ill enough”. Some of us have spent years trying to accept our mental illnesses and have had to work bloody hard to survive in a world full of stigma and judgement, I totally understand the fear of hearing that your illness isn’t valid and especially the fear of hearing that from a person who is in a position of authority.
Nobody is more in touch with your mental health than you. The journey to recovery is one that is incredibly fragile and personal and important and rewarding. The deepest discussions around diagnosis will always happen with yourself or with your doctor/therapist. Those are the ones that you should allow into your heart.
If you are one of the many people who are denied the support that you need and deserve, I urge you to try to see this for what it is - a reflection of a rigid, archaic and poorly implemented system that is failing people every day - it isn’t a failure of yours and you DO NOT need to own it.
Yes, the impact that this decision may have could be life changing, but it should not change the way that you perceive yourself. Allow yourself time to process and recover, appeal the decision, seek support with the appeal.
The purpose of this article is to highlight how many people are going without the support they need and to signpost some available resources here in the UK. I am not an expert on applying for financial support and cannot advise on individual cases.
I’m very sorry that I don’t have any more information about applying for support internationally, if you have any valuable advice for people in the UK or abroad, please leave it in the comments below.
The Samaritans can be contacted in times of need, do not suffer in silence, call 116 123 to talk.
If you CAN make a difference...
If you are reading this and have some influence, whether from within the system itself or some political influence, please understand that providing people with support IN THEORY isn't useful whatsoever unless the people who need the support are able to access it.
The more someone is suffering with mental illness, the less likely they are to be able to cope with the stress of navigating an application and I urge you to do what you can to stop people from falling through the cracks.
I am also sending this link over to the Department for Work and Pensions and will update when I receive any appropriate comments from them.