We tend to focus on the physical here given the nature of the industry we're in, but mental health is no less important and certainly no less prevalent. In honour of mental health day last week we thought it about time we mentioned the elephant in the room!
Sadly studies show that the disabled community are more likely to suffer with a mental health condition (alongside their physical impairment) in comparison with the average individual. Isolation, lack of understanding, pain and even discrimination can all contribute to a feeling of stress, depression and anxiety.
In extreme cases mental health issues can even present themselves in a physical manner. Take FND for example. Whilst certainly not in all cases, a significant number of people develop functional neurological symptoms after a seriously stressful event. Occasionally also known as 'conversion disorder' people can experience a wide number of debilitating systems outside of their control; including seizures, drop attacks, dystonia and extreme fatigue. This can frequently happen to individuals suffering from mental health conditions such as PTSD, stress and anxiety, and there is no organic 'physical' cause. The subconscious can no longer cope with the extreme stimulus and messages from the brain to various nerves simply start misfiring. Whilst diagnosis of 'stress' is largely over simplified as a cause and can actually be seen as an affront in people suffering from this disorder as it significantly downplays the severity, in a large number of cases this can unfortunately be the basic root cause.
Even when not affecting our physical capabilities, mental health conditions can be - and rightly so - considered a disability. The government website states that a mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a long term effect on your day to day activities. Normal day to day activities is simply anything one may do in an average day - getting out of bed, going to work, interreacting and socializing with other people. Frequent conditions include, but aren't limited to, bipolar, dementia, depression, OCD and schizophrenia and they can all have a significant affect in the way we are able to function on a daily basis.
What exacerbates this further is the burden of 'proof' on the disabled individual to somehow demonstrate how their condition affects them on a daily basis. With so many mental and physical ailments varying on a day to day basis this can be especially difficult. The old phrase 'innocent until proven guilty' just doesn't seem to apply in the world of disability and PIP assessors. Time and time again we hear horror stories of how people are left in tears after these assessments due to the reverse - guilty until proven innocent. Individuals are made to feel as though they are being doubted in both their condition, the severity and how to affects them. In 2014 it was found that in the space of ten years the number of attempted suicides doubled in the disabled community after the introduction of the 'fit to work' assessment. Combine this with discrimination from the general public, and even disability hate crime and it's hardly a wonder that mental health is likely to suffer. We've sadly known customers experience bullying, harrassment and even physical intimidation and the ongoing struggle to have the authorities take this seriously seems inherently unfair.
The important thing to remember is that you're not alone. You're doing the best you can, under the circumstances you have been dealt, and that is all anyone can do. Help is out there in the form of support groups and charities and even talking to friends and family is a great first step. Often people feel as though their struggling should be obvious, but quite often family members and friends are oblivious. 'If only I had realised' is a phrase used far too often in support networks after suicide attempts or self harm. Talk to someone, and even if you don't have any close friends or family to rely on then your GP can offer advice. We all struggle with mental health issues (even a couple of us here at Oakham Mobility!) and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Whether you're young, old, rich, poor, disabled, surrounded by family or living alone, mental health doesn't discriminate, and the likelihood is it will affect everyone at some point in their lives.
Feeling brave? Why not advocate for change, or set up your own peer support group. There's a huge undercurrent of disatisfaction at the minute in the disabled community about the way things are handled such as PIP and conditions for benefits. Great things can be achieved when we stick together and realise that we aren't alone in the difficulties we face. We'll happily support any such movement or petition.
If you need any advice or support about any of the topics we have covered here feel free to give us a call or drop us an email and we're happy to help. 01572 755204 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charity working with people with a learning disability, their families and carers.
Phone: 0808 808 1111 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)
Rethink Mental Illness
Support and advice for people living with mental illness.
Phone: 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm)
Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental illness, their families and carers.
Textcare: comfort and care via text message, sent when the person needs it most: www.sane.org.uk/textcare
Peer support forum: www.sane.org.uk/supportforum