It’s #timetotalk today, highlighting issues of mental health. Here are a few things I feel it’s #timetotalk about:

  • It’s time to talk about the fact much mental health care on the NHS is inadequate and underfunded.
  • It’s time to talk about the fact 6 or 8 sessions of CBT is just not enough for many; that feeling abandoned and lost after your sessions end is a frightening experience and can often lead to relapse
  • It’s time to talk about the intersections of mental health and gender, race, disability, sexuality, poverty
  • It’s time to talk about the fact many struggle with no support at all
  • It’s time to talk about how ‘scrounger rhetoric’ damages the mental health of so many, that makes us live with a constant sense of shame and disgust at being ill and vulnerable.
  • It’s time to talk about the thousands of people denied benefits and whose health has been made worse by insensitive and unfit for purpose work capability tests.
  • It’s time to talk about the people who’ve commuted suicide because of a toxic culture of shame and stigma around claiming benefits, having their benefits stopped and being left destitute.
  • It’s time to talk about the fact ‘mental patient’ is used as a Halloween costume.
  • It’s time to talk about pill shaming & pull yourself together bullshit.
  • It’s time to talk about being denied access to employment and education because of your illness.

This is just a tiny snapshot if what we need to talk about in relation to mental health, what do you think it’s time to talk about?

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I came across Unison’s ‘Decent Jobs  for All’ campaign today after seeing it mentioned in the letters pages or something like that. Whilst I applaud the aims of the campaign I can’t help but feel ignored. There is so much political focus on work those of us who can’t work get ignored, our status as unable to work seen either as faking it and thus we should be forced to work (or gently guided if you see yourself as more of a fluffy lefty, but it usually amounts to the same) or charity cases who deserve pity.

This  line from Unison boss Dave Prentis is especially stinging: “It ends discrimination against women, young people and migrant workers. Decent work with decent wages means people can live with dignity.”

This may be true but what about those who can’t work? Those who face ever increasing discrimination and demonisation from across the political spectrum? Where do we fit into this? Where is our equality? The citizen’s income is an idea I support as it places those unable to work on a more level playing field, with equal entitlement to the same basic income as those able to work, no special pleading for special benefits. Though those who need help with extra costs due to disability will be entitled, but the key point remains that everyone is entitled to the basic income, there is no marking out of the ill and disabled as ‘special cases’  who have to plead and jump through dehumanising and increasingly Kafkaesque hoops to be granted even the most basic levels of subsistence. I also question the necessity of paid employment, something which is outlined excellently by Latent Existence. Until more political movements, including feminism, move beyond the idea that everyone can and wants to access work and that work is what we should be aiming for,  I will feel ignored, erased. If we continue to present being in paid employment at a level you can support yourself without state help, part time work is stigmatised and people are encouraged to ‘find more hours’ or risk loosing benefits payments, and the limits for ‘permitted work’ whilst claiming disability benefits are strict and inflexible, further asserting that fact that work is something you should do all the time or be grudgingly supported if you can’t work. The reality for many is that work is something you want to do WHEN you can manage it, which is often sporadically, the choice of being able to work when you can and to be supported when you can’t is not an option.

When work is seen  as the marker of a ‘good’ citizen who ‘contributes’ to society, when work is seen as both a financial and moral necessity; we stigmatise those who can’t work. We increase tensions between those with disabilities who can earn a wage being held in higher esteem than those who don’t, creating a case of ‘divide and rule’ which [lays neatly into the hands of the government ideology of slashing benefits,  the old ‘if they can work why can’t you?’ supercrip trope is used to stigmatise those who cant work but whom society feels should be working, particularly those with ‘invisible’ illness or fluctuating conditions.  Or we deprive people of agency by casting them in the role of the poor little disabled person we should all pity, who we infantilise and whose existence depends on the charity of others, who should fit into the meek, submissive ‘good crip’  stereotype. Of course the accepted definition of ‘work’ is narrow, it means earning a wage to support yourself and ‘contributing to society’ means a narrow financial contribution through taxes. This belittles the contributions many disabled people who can’t work in the sense of being in regular paid employment, make in many different ways through volunteering, art, activism, being a friend, parent, spouse, partner all the myriad ways in which human beings contribute to society but do not earn a wage.

Paid work is not the only way to contribute to society and some people will never be able to undertake paid work yet are just as important to society; just as contributory, just as vital, just as HUMAN as those that do undertake paid employment. To focus on paid work as the main way to contribute to society is to erase the experiences of millions.

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In my last post I suggested that some people were likely to use the paralympics as a political tool to demonise disability benefit claimants.

Lo and behold, we have this tale of a local newspaper editor telling motability claimants to ‘hang their heads in shame’. The disability news service reports an odious arse dribble named Tony Hines claimed ““fake” disabled people “do not work or contribute to society one iota and just sponge and bitch all day while sitting at home eating cream cakes watching Loose Women”, and compared them with Paralympians, who were “genuine people with some bad disabilities but not giving into them and actually trying to overcome them”. In a festival of anti-benefits rhetoric, ableism and classism and a general scorn for humanity. There is this idea that you must always be striving to ‘overcome’ your disability and if you accept that it’s probably realistically going to be a part of your life for quite a while and you admit to needing support, you’re not ‘trying hard enough’. Believe me I have tried to carry on like I’m fine, fit and healthy and sooner or later, usually sooner, it all ends up with my body and mind going ‘erm we can’t just ignore this, help!’ and crashing. As much as I hate to admit it, I have limits and if I push them too far I make myself worse, why should I be ashamed to ask for help and support if I need it and that help comes in the form of benefits?

This is a perfect example of the kinds of attitudes I worried about. The  rise of “armchair ATOS” crusaders who feel fit to judge the disability of strangers, people whose daily lives they have no idea of and thus have no idea how a person’s health may be affected. This is a dangerously narrow minded view of disability, it assumes one can ‘spot’ a disabled person. Millions of disabled people look perfectly healthy, but it doesn’t mean they are. Sadly these attitudes are not just confined to wankers whining from a newspaper column, or on-line or letters to the editor. These attitudes are responsible for incidents of harassment and disability hate crime. Rebbecca of Half a Giraffe  has an excellent post about her experiences of being judged by a nosy busy body whilst daring to use the blue badge she is perfectly entitled to use.  More than 9 in 10 people surveyed by Disability Rights UK linked the hostility in the press and from government towards disabled people with the rise in disability hate crimes.

Mental health and other ‘invisible disabilities’ seem to suffer disproportionately from accusations of ‘scrounger’ and the associated bullying, there is a widespread lack of education about disability, with common perceptions focused on visible impairments. There is little recognition that one can ‘look fine’ but be disabled, often severely so. Mental health also bears the stigma of not being seen as a ‘real’ and there is still an unfortunate amount of people who assume you can ‘snap out of it’ or just ‘try harder’ . Even amongst those who claim to be supportive there can be a real lack of knowledge of just how severe conditions such as depression can be. To use an example from comments on my blog which, in asserting that depression is not a disability, it was stated; ‘Not being able to return to your job or participate in a majority of the activities you once loved, this is the reality of disability for me’  a statement which I assume implied that this wasn’t the reality for people with depression and mental health problems, when in fact I am sure many of those with mental health issues recognise this as an all too familiar daily reality. In addition to often being unable to look after ones self, being unable to cook, go shopping or keep on top of housework or even get out of bed without help and encouragement. Again all things I that I have had people assume I, or any other person with mental illness, can manage without difficulty and are thus ‘not really disabled’ and don’t deserve any support we may get and spend our days rolling in wads of cash, watching giant tvs and riding round in free cars.

Hearing the trumped up opinions of armchair ATOS, back-seat doctors, medical geniuses who can judge a person’s health by snatching a glimpse of them getting out of a car or just by hearing the name of their condition, day after day, in general discourse, in the media , from the politicians in charge of the welfare state and healthcare, hearing all that, it hurts. Having people assume you’re not ‘really ill enough’ or ‘lazy’ or not entitled to whatever support you might get and casting  aspersions on your personality as a result; insinuating you are a cheat, a liar, lazy or seeking a pity party, it really fucking hurts.

It’s discrimination based upon false assumptions and lack of evidence. It has to stop,  to see people using the exceptional achievements of the few to belittle the everyday hardships of the many makes me sick, it makes me fume. Doubly so when it is candy coated with a layer of ‘but I don’t hate disabled people, I’m being nice to paralympians!’ doublethink, enemies dressed up as allies. When terms such as ‘depression’ , ‘fatigue’ and ‘bad back’ are used as shorthand for ‘making it up’ or ‘faking it’, it hurts, especially when the proportion of fraudulent claims is minute, by backing these reforms you are de facto backing denying support to genuinely ill and disabled people. This hatred is often framed as being for the benefit of ‘genuine’ disabled people and thus those spouting this discriminatory , outdated and just plain wrong bullshit claim it as ‘support’ for disabled people in society and as somehow progressive and for ‘the greater good’, words haven’t been invented yet to describe how angry it makes me. It’s still shit under the candy coating.

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