A Cruel World In The UK

At the end of my last post focusing on The Importance Of Family, it may have seemed as though I was starting to wander of topic when I was speaking about the current political and media discourse surrounding people with disabilities. I do get passionate when talking about that particular topic because when I watch the TV news or read a newspaper, it always seems to be an outsider looking in and telling us what having a disability is like, how we feel and what our aims are, based on very general, blanket surveys and statistics. That’s not to say that those opinions and statistics are unimportant but it does seem as though the use of expert opinions and statistics are being used in the wrong way; it seems to me that the current government has, grabbed the wrong end of the stick. As I say it may seems as though Im’ having a political rant but it is going somewhere, I promise.

All Good Will Is Gone

I read in a recent article that the percentage of the UK’s disabled population and lives on funding from the welfare state that wants paid work was in the sixtieth percentile (which is actually not bad when you consider that approximately half of the UK’s disabled population are OAP’s). These stats have been used as a tool to cut the welfare expenditure currently being paid by the government in order to reduce the deficit and increase the current spending budget. By using this statistic they have been able to justify cutting benefits such as the DLA (Disability Living Allowance) and introducing PIP (Personal Independence Payment, a non means tested, weekly payment based on the extent of your disability and how it affects your daily life. A payment much less in terms of the amount paid and is extremely difficult to access), cuts to Carer’s Allowance and an excessively strict screening process to become a carer, the cut to Tax Credits, Housing Allowance and so much more. All of these things contribute to people with disabilities and people living in poverty feeling ashamed of their disability and/or hating themselves for being the person they are and the life they lead.

The Power of Government & Media

“Make up your own mind, don’t let other people tell you. What we are saying is take a critical view, find out about it. Don’t believe something just because someone tells you to. If somebody says something, question it and work it out for yourself.”

– John Cleese

How they have justified these actions? The current government has stated that these cuts to the welfare state are to incentivize those people that make up the sixtieth percentile of people with disabilities that want to get paid work into actually doing it. The implication of that statement is that the disabled population of the UK have not been pulling their weight, have not been trying hard enough and that their inability to find paid work is because of their own failures and laziness, not the disability that they wake up and live with every day. The idea that people with disabilities are taking advantage of a welfare state designed and implemented to look out for their wellbeing, due to a lack of incentive, as opposed to being unable to do certain things due to their condition or disability is preposterous. Especially when certain disabilities can rule you out of most and, in some cases, all forms of employment. The accusation is that people with disabilities rely on the state to help them get by in life and that this attitude of reliance on government aid and welfare support from the disabled population is unacceptable. Isn’t that the point of a welfare state though, to look after the poor the weak and the vulnerable?

For further insight into the type of cuts and welfare reforms implemented by the coalition government since 2010 and now being expanded and hammered home by the Conservative government follow this link to statistics produced by www.unison.org.uk, the public service trade union.

When this is the narrative being produced by both politicians and certain aspects of the media, it is humiliating. The implication that the people with disabilities in the UK are a bunch of lazy, scroungers taking advantage of a system put in place to help us is terrible. When it is a dialogue being discussed by those who are in positions of power and influence it is even worse because other people hear it on TV and read it in newspapers and magazines and start to believe what they are being told. This dialogue becomes a virus and spreads to the point where a stigma attaches itself to the subject of disability. In my view, the problem is that people don’t think for themselves anymore, nobody ever questions what they are being told; they seem to just accept it as truth.

How I interpret These Changes

As a disabled person who has gone through many of the different processes in welfare, health and social care, I can only speak for myself. I think though, given the current mood of people with disabilities and of the poor and working class people in the UK that I am not alone.

These narratives I have mentioned in the above paragraphs that are being fed to the UK public are demeaning and diminish our disabilities in the eyes of the general population. The new model of welfare, health and social care is one based on doing more with less (an impossible feat by it’s very wording). Access to the services is based on a fixed model, with fixed criteria and no variation or accommodation for individual circumstance.

We are at a stage where the model is almost like this; an authority, one that hasn’t met you before, places a mark on the wall at two meters. They then state that to be eligible for the financial aid and the many programs of health & social care you need, you have to be equal to or exceed this height. Anything under that, even if you’re one meter and ninety-nine centimeters high, they say: “YOU DO NOT QUALIFY. YOU ARE NOT DISABLED TO A SATISFACTORY STANDARD THAT WE HAVE IMPOSED, YOU DON’T MEET WHAT OUR IDEA OF DISABILITY IS.” What the current UK government are essentially saying is that disabilities do not include variables such as I was born this way, or (what we are here to talk about) I had a brain hemorrhage (for example) and now I’m not good at interacting with people, I do suffer from fatigue, I can’t retain information as well as everyone else. But I can walk and talk, that’s enough for me to get a job. None of the different aspects and manifestations of different disabilities seem to matter anymore. We all have to be the same in terms of the definition of disability. Does nobody else see the flaw in this model? Am I alone here?

(Very Few) Exceptions To The Rule

When the systems implemented by the government and reinforced by narratives from the media, as a person with a disability, I can say that I have since felt lousy. Authorities have told me that I do not qualify for certain aspects of a welfare and health and social care system that we pay for as citizens of the UK with our taxes (paid by ourselves, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, mine and yours). Instead we are told that there is not enough money in the pot and ill, vulnerable and disabled people are sent out to do their duty of a hard days graft. After all, “we’re all in this together” (accept the wealthy elite who seem to see tax as beneath them).Is this what we call a civilised, compassionate democracy?

A Conclusion: How All Of This Makes Me, A Person With A Disability, Feel

Being forced into work with a disability such as an acquired brain injury wreaks havoc with your mind. I started to question myself. I had been judged to be just as capable as everyone else, so when I realized that I obviously wasn’t, I questioned why I was doing so badly (a question with an obvious answer). But the state had said to me, “your acquired brain injury and all of the ways that injury manifests itself have been measured at only one meter and ninety-nine centimeters, not enough I’m afraid to be eligible for the welfare and services you have applied for.” The way I saw it, if the state has not judged me as disabled and ineligible for support and with all the things going wrong for me, there must be something wrong with me as a person. “Are the things people at work are saying true? Am I lazy? Am I not a team player? Am I rude, inappropriate and antisocial? Why am I getting so tired when nobody else is? I always seem to forget things, why is that?” You start to question your own ability, disability and it’s manifestations and you turn any anger and hatred that was previously aimed at the disability inwards, on yourself. You start to hate yourself and think you don’t have any value when you have been sacked from a job for another mistake or for an incident which is actually a consequence or manifestation of your ABI.

When this happens our self-confidence and how we see and value ourselves plummets. These are the type of things that carers do not get to see or feel with brain injuries and in previous posts (Only lessons and Simplifying ABI Recovery) I mentioned the dangers of not seeing the bigger picture or only seeing 1 dimension of a brain injury patient’s recovery, this is the type of thing I was talking about. Finally, when talking about the role of the family in last week’s post there was something important that I missed, seeing an ABI in all three dimensions is so important because the family are the people who can help build a patient back up when he or she continues to get knocked down in unkind world.

Thanks for reading, sorry if I droned on a little this week but I really want to emphasise some of the negative influences around at the moment as next week I will be moving onto the topic of mental health. To see more of what I am doing, follow me on Twitter (my handle is @ABIblogger) or follow my me on Instagram where my handle is abi_wordpress_massey. Thanks again and please, join the mailing list and follow me on WordPress to to raise awareness on ABI & TBI.

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World Mental Health Day! (Only A Day?)

I realise that I am posting on a day other than my usual Monday and Thursday slots. Today, however, is a day that needs to be brought to the forefront of discussion. Today is the 10th of October and is marked in the calendar as World Mental Health Day, a day to raise awareness of and broaden the dialogue surrounding mental health and to hopefully address the negative stigmas attached to it.

Mental Health In The Context Of The UK Population

The truth is we must understand mental health problems before we can answer the question “HOW do we address it?” The truth is that, statistically, one in four people are likely to have issues regarding mental health over the next year. Most of those people will, again statistically, be young people. So what we are saying is that approximately 25% of the UK population is likely to have mental health issues over the next year, the majority of them being young people. A statistic even more alarming, though, is that 28% of UK residents would be unwilling to talk about issues regarding their mental health and the mental health of others. That is extremely alarming to me. Nearly one third of the British population is unwilling to talk about something one quarter of the population has – there is something terribly wrong there!

So, what does that mean? So many people will be and are going through mental health issues in our country. It is predicted that, by the year 2020, major depression will be the second most common health issue in Britain behind heart disease. It appears we are approaching a mental health epidemic in Britain and someone seriously needs to sit up and ask the question, when are we going to talk about this?

What Is It Like To Suffer From Mental Health Problems?

I can only put mental health into a context where I can understand and relate to it. After suffering from an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) I have suffered terribly with depression. I have seen councilors and neuropsychologists to help me with my issues; I have tried more holistic methods such as mindfulness thinking and meditation classes. Finally, six years after the ABI, I am at a place where I am reasonably well balanced in terms of my mental health.

I am not fully balanced though. It is something like walking a tightrope, lose your balance ever so slightly and you can take a massive fall (It is lucky I always have the safety net of my family there to catch me). People are never aware of mental health, not really. It is that problem and a perception that people with depression are having a bad day or feeling sorry for themselves that hampers the potential discourse surrounding the subject. For anyone that doesn’t understand or has never experienced issues with something like depression or the myriad of other mental health issues, the paragraph below (in a very dark manner) will explain what it felt like for me to suffer day in, day out, with depression.

            “Depression is cancer of the soul. I still see a neuropsychologist regularly to try and fight against the parasite that riddles my brain; stabbing at my insecurities, whispering nasty, vindictive things about who I am and the way I am, the voices that don’t want me to succeed and seems to hold the positive voices as hostage with a gag stuffed down their throat. It is the thing that locks all the positive thoughts and emotions; optimism, love, hope, self-belief, confidence in a cell with no windows.” (Written by myself approximately two years ago).

Media Representation Of Mental Health Problems

We often see in mainstream media such as the news, film and TV a representation of mental health issues which depicts the extreme repercussions and effects they have on people’s lives. People so depressed they are self-harming or committing suicide, murderers who were schizophrenic or bipolar. We see the extreme consequences of these illnesses but what is never addressed are the issues everyday people are having regarding mental illness and mental health problems – that the person you sit opposite to in the office may be on medication for a mental health issue that they live with, manage as best they can and live with negative feelings and thought patterns every day rarely occurs to most of us and gets very little air time in terms of media coverage as it is not shocking enough. What is shocking in my opinion, though, is the number of people in our lives who are likely to be suffering from this kind of issue.

What becomes more frustrating for people in that situation is the blasé nature in which objective social commentators seem to address their condition. As we move forwards into the future, the Internet plays an increasingly larger role in the influence it has on the way that we are thinking. Let’s not beat around the bush, the media we consume plays a large role in influencing the way the general population thinks. What has really started to upset me is the emergence of what I like to call “the sickening meme” (two examples of these can be found at the end of this paragraph. Maybe I’m negative but hey!). With social networking playing an ever-expanding part in people’s lives, both socially and professionally, it allows people to show their creativity and promote their creative works to a large audience of people. Now this, I am all for. However, it becomes increasingly frustrating when people address issues and over simplify them. In doing this, creating a meme with a nice picture and a sickening quote that overly simplifies an extremely complex issue. While you are being creative and your work is very impressive, you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem, in over-simplifying the discourse that surrounds a complex issue. This helps to minimalise the discussion around issues of mental health as it makes it seem as though the solution to issues such as depression and mental health conditions are easy ones when THEY ARE NOT. I realise that memes such as these are not intended specifically for people with mental health problems, but people suffering from those problems see these pieces of creativity and they feel worse, they feel isolated, as they start to ask the question, “Why can’t I pull myself together?” It makes them feel more and more as though they are failures.

Mental Health In Relation To ABI

For people with ABI’s, the reasoning behind depression post-injury can be so varied because an ABI changes so much in our lives; our physical abilities, our cognitive abilities and mental capacities, it can stop you from finding, keeping, even being able to work, it can change personality traits, it can make it so that relationships cannot be developed or maintained, it can ruin careers, ruin lives! There is some academic thought that it could come from a biological reaction to the trauma itself – I do not necessarily agree. I think if we look at all of those things I listed previously, what they have in common is loss. I think the depression post brain injury is us mourning our loss and adjusting to a new sense of self and realising that we have to be someone new and find new ways of doing regular things to be able to get by and live a regular life.

Ways ABI Patients Can Regain Control

Fighting depression post-ABI can be a difficult task. It is incredibly important though as something like depression can be as debilitating as a physical disability. The key is to find ways to fight those negative voices that can be so influential and powerful in our brains. So now I am going to list a few key ways (some I may have mentioned in previous posts) that helps me fight depression after my injury.

  1. Exercise – A simple one but very effective. Doing something as simple as going for a brisk walk for an hour each day will produce endorphins, opiate like neurotransmitters (chemicals that pass on signals from one neuron to the next) that come from the pituitary gland and spinal chord, and other parts of your brain and nervous system. Endorphins are often produced during periods of stress, fear and pain and mostly interact with the receptors of cells found in regions of the brain that suppress pain as well as controlling our emotional levels. The release of endorphins can give your mood a real lift, leading to the term “the runner’s high”, meaning a feeling of euphoria post-exercise.
  2. Holistic Methods – These methods can often be scoffed at but I found them to be very effective. Practices such as the one I used, mindfulness meditation, is aimed at really paying attention to where you are, in the present and being aware of your thoughts and where they lead. As well as this, mindfulness if done in a specific location can allow you to really be aware of the natural world as it is. The intention is to really come to terms with yourself and your presence in this world and can be really effective in instilling a positive thought process, which will improve your mental health and your wellbeing in general.
  3. Recording & Celebrating Your Successes – I have talked in previous posts about targeting small achievable goals. One of the things I am not sure I put enough emphasis on was recording those goals and your victories. When I was recovering from my ABI, I made a diary to record the things I had achieved. This enables you in darker times, when the negative thoughts get overwhelming, to look back over your successes and see what YOU have achieved. The things that YOU did. It was all your work! What’s more celebrate those achievements even if they are small ones. To give yourself credit give you confidence and self esteem which will allow you to press on and go for bigger things. Those two things also play a big part in overcoming depression. If you do enough things and tell yourself enough “I ACHIEVED THAT” or “LOOK AT ALL THE THINGS I HAVE DONE”, that self affirmation is the kind of thing that allows the positive voices to shout over the negative ones.

The point I have tried to make with this post is that, while we now have one day to bring attention to mental health, there are people suffering with those kinds of issues every single day. One day or one week even, does not seem to be enough in my eyes. Why aren’t there, for example, trained social workers in schools? The person you went to talk to about issues such as depression when I was at school was a PE teacher who also taught PSHE. I have to ask, if young people are suffering with these issues as badly as recent studies suggest, WHY AREN’T WE DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT??? Until we are all on the same page with regards to mental health problems and the kind of things that are required to overcome them such as:

  • Easy access to trained councilors
  • More education in schools
  • a kinder and more accurate portrayal of mental health patients in the media as well as a less polarized depiction of the severity of mental health issues in general society.
  • Finally, everyone being able to open up to each other and talk openly about how we feel.

Until we can provide this, then we are still going to be in the same place in the year 2020, asking ourselves how have this generation been allowed to get to this position? The middle of a mental health epidemic!

Now, I hope that this has been helpful. I think that these issues are all one that need to be addressed and talked about. I realise that some (maybe many) may disagree with what I am saying and my opinions on this subject. I have not written this as an inflammatory gesture, these are merely my opinions on the subject. If anyone has any criticism or issue with what I have written, don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter (@ABIblogger) or by email: lifeafterbraininjuryblogchat@gmail.com.