Changes to Disability Benefits and the Government’s blasé attitude to psychological distress.

Last month the Government announced that it was going to be tightening the criteria for claimants of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which would see those people with mental illnesses stuck without the vital support that they need. The Government has introduced these restrictions after losing two cases at tribunals.

The Tribunal ruled that someone who is unable to undertake a journey without assistance from another person due to psychological distress should be scored in the same way as a person who needs assistance because they have difficulty navigating. Rather than accepting the ruling of the courts, the Government decided to change the legislation and the descriptors to exclude people suffering from some mental health disabilities by inserting the following into the legislation and the descriptors, “for reasons other than psychological distress”.

The Government produced its own analysis of which claimants and conditions are likely to be affected by these changes, 

These include people suffering from Dementia, Autism, Cognitive Disorder due to stroke, Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychotic Disorder, Schizophrenia, Agoraphobia, to name just a few. These are very serious debilitating mental health conditions that can severely restrict a person’s ability to live independently.

One of Theresa May’s first major speeches after becoming Prime Minister was about righting the social injustices faced by those suffering with mental health conditions, she talked of parity of esteem between physical and mental health and yet at the very first hurdle, She and her Government have failed miserably by introducing this legislation that discriminates against those suffering with mental health disabilities.

I  have been diagnosed with Severe Depression, Anxiety, Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, social phobia to name just a few. I have suffered with these conditions all through my adult life due to being sexually abused and raped on weekly basis for 12 years of my life. I frequently self harm, suffer from intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideation. I wrote an article about my struggles with mental health, accessing appropriate NHS treatment and the benefit system here.

I currently receive the lower rate of Disability Living Allowance (Mobility Component) because I need the assistance of someone else in order to leave my home due to “psychological distress” When I am eventually migrated to PIP, I will no longer be entitled to an award or this support.

This is an example of what it is like for someone like me who struggles with these disorders outside the home.

When outdoors I can become so distressed by events and this can trigger an episode of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms. Symptoms include flash backs to an event that has caused much psychological harm and distress, visual hallucinations of the event that makes me feel that I am in another time and place, reliving the event as though it is really happening at that moment, becoming completely unaware of immediate surroundings. Coming out of one of these episodes is extremely distressing, confusing and disorientating and leaves me full of fear. My entire thought process is filled only with getting home and getting safe. I am no longer capable of following the route because my brain and thought process will not quieten down enough to think. I can only liken it to a petrified dog that will run off at full speed ahead, unaware of dangers / hazards / roads, petrified of people. All you can think of is getting home to the safety of your bed and cowering. The situation has caused me to put myself and others in danger whilst in this panicked state of mind. There are many things that can act as a trigger for me, It might be the way someone looks reminds me of person from my past, It can be a certain smell that acts as a trigger, it might be something I hear. I spend most of my life avoiding triggers. These are obviously easier to control within the safety of my own home, but impossible when I am outdoors.

I hardly ever go outdoors, I tend to only go out when it is for a necessity like going to the doctor, psychologist or hospital and then I need my partner or family member to accompany me to keep me safe and to intervene in the event of me having a psychological episode. I can on very rare occasions manage a trip out to the countryside as long as it is a wide open space and there is nobody else about and I can see any perceived threats well in advance and I am able to escape and get back to the car or home quickly. I have become totally disengaged from society; I cut all ties with friends and former work colleagues many years ago. When I am outdoors, if I am confronted with a possible social interaction my brain starts racing at a million miles an hour. I convince myself they are going to ask me personal questions which will cause me distress. My brain starts running through conversations before they have taken place, it becomes sheer manic and panic, trust me when I say it is pure trauma. When I get home, the only way I can deal with this “psychological distress” is to start self harming and deflect my emotional trauma into a physical trauma as a distraction to escape my thoughts. It is hell.

I worry about these changes to disability benefits, not just for myself, but for people like me who suffer from debilitating mental health disorders who rely on the assistance of others and the welfare state in order to try and live an independent life. I think of last week’s terrorist attack where people who up until that awful day, might have lived a very ordinary healthy life and through no fault of their own, some person through this evil act of terror, has totally derailed their life  and left them suffering with severe psychological trauma and a disorder. The physical injuries may heal but the mental trauma can often be much more difficult to treat. I hope that these people get all the psychological support that they need to try and prevent a long term disorder, but I worry because I know firsthand just how hard it is to access mental health services through the NHS and even then when you can access it, it is severely rationed. I know what it is like to live with these conditions and the long term disabling effect it can have. I think people need to think about that, because if any of these people are left with a psychological disorder because of this terrorist attack and they end up needing the support of another person when outdoors because of “psychological distress” they will not be entitled to PIP Mobility component under the new legislation.

Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats have submitted a prayer motion in order to try and reverse these changes to PIP legislation. There is only 7 days left in order to get the debate in parliament and hopefully a vote to reverse this decision. I urge all LDV readers to contact their MP and ask them to sign this motion.

If Theresa May and this Tory Government are serious about parity of esteem between physical and mental health, they would reverse this unfair discriminatory legislation that is going to leave thousands of people suffering from debilitating mental health without the vital support they need.

* Matt is a reader of Liberal Democrat Voice who, because of the intensely personal details included in this post is not using his full name.