Into the system…

blogging, work, mental health, therapy, disability, benefits and more…

Posts Tagged ‘Employment and Support Allowance

Recovery, Scoring and ESA…

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It’s been a strange week really. I seem to have spent the week being confronted with the fact I’m still a lot more ill than I thought I was.

On Wednesday I had an appointment with Dr B. He’s another GP at my local practice and as Dr N is on holiday for two weeks I had to make do with him. He’s okay, but a little brisk. Every time I’ve seen him he’s made me do a PHQ9 form to assess my levels of depression. It’s similar to a BDI I guess, but with fewer questions and less detail. My score was in the twenties (out of 27), putting me in the severely depressed category. I knew I was still depressed but I’d kinda expected it to have moved into the moderately severe category by now. I do feel better than I did back in February. The depression is less absolute, but I can’t deny that I still think of death and suicide every day, I’m still not sleeping and I still feel pretty tired and down.

For curiosity’s sake I did a BDI as well. I ended up doing it twice as I find it so difficult to decide between answers. My pessimistic score (choosing the worse option if I couldn’t decide) was well over 50. My optimistic score (choosing the better option) was about 45. 30+ is classed as severe depression so it’s a pretty similar result to the PHQ9. It’s a vast improvement on the 60+ (out of 63!) I was scoring in February. I racked up one of the highest scores ever seen at The Priory back then, which is pretty scary really. The improvement is not enough though. How can this be recovery if I’m still in the severely ill category?

I don’t know if I am really severely depressed though, even if my scores say I am. I have been depressed for so much of my life I’m not sure if my results are skewed. I expect even when I’m what I’d describe as well, I’d still be scoring a mild depression score at least.

I was talking about this with a medic friend last night. We were talking about the GPs in the village and I mentioned I’d seen Dr B. She asked me what he was like and I basically said he was okay, but he asks me to do the PHQ9 whenever I see him. She said that GPs are obliged to demonstrate they are giving “adequate monitoring” to depression patients and the PHQ9 counts towards this. It’s interesting as I don’t remember ever doing one with Dr N. I guess he prefers to give adequate monitoring with actually asking me how I am, rather than getting me to select ticky boxes.

I mentioned my scores and how I wasn’t sure how accurate they were. She suggested that sometimes the scores can be a little skewed by insight and they often don’t reflect how well someone is functioning, which seems fair enough I guess. She said I’m clearly functioning a lot better than my scores suggest, which I think is true, but I guess that comes with years of practice in hiding things. I function in autopilot, hiding the thoughts, but the thoughts are still there.

To add further doubts to my idea of recovery I got a letter from the ESA decision maker yesterday. They are finally processing my application under the youth rules and the decision maker has sent the sheet explaining how much I will receive. Looking at it, I’m being paid the amount pertaining to the Support Group. I presume this means they have my medical result and not only have I passed, but I am deemed too unwell to even contemplate work and thus have been placed in the Support Group. This is a big surprise. I had worried so much that I wouldn’t even pass the medical, let alone be placed in the Support Group. I haven’t received the letter confirming my medical result yet, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is wrong, but it shouldn’t be. I will be interested to see what score I actually received. Another set of points telling me how ill I am.

I don’t know how I feel about being in the Support Group though. In a way it is positive. It means I don’t need to do the pointless Pathways to Work interviews and I also get a little more money, which of course is good. It means there is no pressure to try and get back to work before I am ready. I will not be bullied by the DWP to do so.

At the same time though I can’t help but feel disappointed. I feel like I’ve been written off. I am too ill and disabled to even consider working. That’s something I can’t handle and really don’t want to admit. I want to get back to work and I want that to be something achievable in the near future. It makes me feel like this is all pointless. I want to be recovering and this makes me wonder if I really am. I had felt I was making progress, but that progress is clearly not enough. This is all just fuelling the “fuck it, this isn’t worth it” thoughts. I don’t want this.

I’m a little worried too and I almost feel guilty. I wonder whether this is the right decision. I kinda feel like I have cheated the system because I didn’t expect to pass the medical. I know how notorious these medicals are. I know that hardly anyone passes, let alone gets placed in the Support Group. I wonder why I have got through when so many others haven’t? Am I really that bad? I know I can be in denial and I guess in a way these doubts show that, but I am still unsure. It just feels a little wrong.

I wonder if this process is designed to make you feel guilty? There is such a stigma against incapacity benefits, that you feel awful to be claiming them, yet if you are entitled to, it would be stupid not to. There is so much attention paid to people that cheat the system that genuine claimants worry they will be tarred with the same brush. I had no intention of cheating the system and I didn’t do anything to do so. If anything I down played how bad things were. There was no exaggeration, yet I feel like I have cheated. Surely this is wrong? Surely I should just be glad that the right decision has been made? Yet the doctors at Atos have such a bad reputation I even question a positive decision.

Pathways to Work…

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A couple of days ago I got a letter from the local jobcentre asking me to come in for a “Pathways to Work” interview in two weeks time. The Pathways to Work scheme is designed to get people of incapacity benefits (IB or ESA) and back into work. It is geared at people who do not have jobs and the support offered is all about work experience, improving skills and finding a job. For someone who already has a job but is just too unwell to work, this is obviously a complete waste of time.

The literature that came with the letter was even more frustrating. There were a number of “success stories” of disabled people who had successfully got into work through the Pathways to Work scheme. The disappointing thing was all of these people had got minimum wage jobs in local supermarkets, washing dishes in kitchens or working in DIY stores. There were no teachers, lawyers or accountants. No doctors, nurses or IT consultants. No one was in a managerial position. Everyone was in a basic entry-level role, with few prospects for career progression and no doubt earning very little. I know for some people, a job in a supermarket is a massive achievement, but for many it is a massive step down. Not everyone on incapacity benefit has had a poor education or learning difficulties. Some of these people are highly intelligent, highly employable and have been previously very successful until they became ill or disabled. Surely these leaflets are not providing a positive image of disability? The leaflets should be saying, “look, you’re disabled but that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful and get a great job”. Instead they seem to say, “Oh, you’re disabled so you are obviously only capable of stacking shelves in a supermarket”. It is as if disabled people aren’t worthy of aspirations and successful careers.

This poor image of disability is reinforced by the services offered. Improve your CV. Training opportunities to improve your skills and employability. Work placements and buddy schemes. Money for attending job interviews. All of these things suggest that disabled people aren’t employable and need all the help they can get to find a job. Disabled people clearly aren’t capable of thinking for themselves and writing their own CVs. It may be true that in the current climate everyone looking for a job needs help, but this all seems very patronising and demeaning.

The other impression you get from the leaflets was the familiar story that people on incapacity benefit should just pull themselves together and get to work. There was a real sense of the Government’s displeasure about people being on disability benefits. On the first page it states that Pathways to Work is a key part of the Government’s plans to get one million people off incapacity benefits by 2015. Is it really feasible that one million people will recover from their disabilities? In theory it would be great if one million people became well enough to get back into work, but to me, the answer is not Pathways to Work. The answer is improved health care; quicker access to therapy for mental health patients, shorter waiting times for knee or hip joint replacements, more research into treatment for conditions like fibromyalgia, MS and chronic fatigue syndrome. People need successful treatment and support that will help them to recover and manage their condition. Help finding a job or gaining work experience isn’t going to make them well. Yes, working can improve well being and confidence, but for many it is just not an option.