Having A Mental Health Problem Doesn’t Make You A Bad Person

I often feel quite ashamed of my mental illness. It’s like by being so unwell for so many years I am less of a person than my peers who have degrees, careers, children, marriages and so on. I always feel embarrassed because I feel my life shouldn’t be like this, I shouldn’t be like this.

My mental illness has put me in situations that have made me feel shame, that have made me feel like a bad person. Claiming benefits made me feel awful, selfish, worthless. I felt like the scum of the earth but I was too poorly to work and needed money to survive. I never ever wanted to be in a position where I had to claim benefits. The night I spent in a police cell made me feel like a bad person. As nice as the police were to me, I was treated like a criminal. I had my belongings and shoes taken off of me, I was strip searched and then put in a cell for many hours. I felt like a criminal. I felt like the whole of society was looking down on me.

I feel extremely guilty for the pain I have put other people through. I have dragged family and friends through this nightmare with me. My dad hasn’t slept properly in 18 months, my mum has cried at her severely anorexic daughter. It’s not nice for me but it’s not nice for those around me who have to witness all this too.

I do feel like a bad person. I do hate myself. But I shouldn’t, having a mental illness does not make me a bad person or any less of a person. It just makes me ill. This is something I never chose to happen to me. My asthma doesn’t make me a bad person, yes it can inconvenience people when I’m having an attack but nobody thinks I’m an awful person because of it. I know there is a difference between physical illnesses and mental illnesses because mental illnesses can impact and influence someone’s behaviour. I feel like a terrible person for some of the text messages I have sent when I’ve been unwell, or for getting angry at my parents for what seems like no apparent reason. I feel like a terrible person when someone makes the effort to spend time with me and I can’t stay awake or I can barely utter a word. I hate myself when I can’t follow your conversation but what I need to learn is that it isn’t my fault.

Having a mental health problem doesn’t make you a bad personal, neither does it make you any less of a person. You are unwell and you had no choice over that. Don’t feel like you are a bad person over an illness that happened to you.

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Benefits Street Isn’t Real

I hate that they have created a TV series that enforces the stereotypes held by those that have been fortunate enough not to have experienced the benefits world.

I know the view held about those on benefits because not being your stereotypical benefits claimant I tend to hear these views regularly. People on benefits are seen as undeserving, uneducated, worthless, tracksuit wearing, lazy, smoking scum. People hold this view that those on benefits are below everyone else and that benefits claimants want to live life that way. We are incredibly lucky to have been born on this land and to have a safety net surrounding us that means we will be supported. If we get cancer we can get treatment and if that cancer is terminal then we can leave work and enjoy the last few weeks of our life supported by the state. If a woman is raped, falls pregnant and gives birth to that child then child benefits help her get by. Society tends to judge everyone on benefits but doesn’t tend to understand that most people don’t want to be in that situation.

There is a small minority that abuse the system but because the media only tell us about that it tends to look like the majority. The news reports on a murderer, it doesn’t then report on the billions of people that didn’t murder that day. Murderers are also a small minority.

There is so much stigma around claiming benefits, I remember when I first started claiming them I felt so ashamed and I wouldn’t tell anyone. I had spent the majority of the year in hospital, I was an A grade student with no choice but to drop out of education because I was too unwell and yet I didn’t feel I deserved benefits. Even now, typing this, I fear I will be sent hate by those that don’t understand. We all need money to live, we all need money to buy sanitary towels and food and to pay the electric and water bill but only some of us are lucky enough to be in a position where we can go out to work to get that money. Not everybody has good health, not everybody is able to walk and some people have gone through unbearable pain and trauma. These people need support, not discrimination.

Just because somebody claims benefits, it doesn’t mean that they don’t contribute to society. That somebody might volunteer on their good days or run a blog supporting others with similar problems to them. Not everyone on benefits sleeps in and then spends the rest of the day smoking and having a laugh. Benefits are not a comfortable way to live. The majority of people don’t fiddle the system and therefore live on barely enough to have a roof over their head, they certainly can’t afford holidays and they also experience shame, discrimination and isolation. I can say that my life plan involves working and a lot of contributing to society, I do not want to be a benefits claimant but sometimes there is little choice.

http://www.whobenefits.org.uk/page/content/front

The Importance of Advocacy

I think that advocacy for those with mental health conditions can be incredibly beneficial and yet it is something that is rarely offered. I had an advocate when I was an inpatient and I’ve seen posters in the outpatient waiting room which require a daunting telephone call to get in touch. Imagine if there was an advocate in a room in the GP surgery for example. Patients would be able to drop in and have support if they wanted so that they could get the most out of their appointment and get the treatment they need in order to feel well again.

When I am at my most unwell that is when I need to most help and yet rarely have I been able to access that as the current system seems to require a lot of fighting in order to get treatment. I remember going to my GP surgery every day because I wasn’t being heard. People with acute mental health problems cannot be expected to fight to get help. These same people are often struggling financially too as they become to poorly to work and are instead faced with ATOS assessments.

An advocate could help that person access the help they are entitled to from the NHS as well as helping them to get the benefits they are also entitled to and this would mean that patients are not suffering alone and feeling isolated and it would potentially lead to a quicker recovery too.

If you would like an advocate then you may find the following links helpful:

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/advocacy-in-mental-health/#.VXBU7M9Viko

http://www.seap.org.uk/services/community-mental-health/

Receiving Benefits Because of Mental Illness? Don’t Be Ashamed

Writing this post is taking a great deal of bravery as I am going to openly admit that I receive benefits. I am often ashamed that I do, I feel undeserving, ‘the scum of the earth’, ‘a benefits scrounger’. I just thought as I was writing this that I should say that my parents have always worked and paid taxes but I do not need to justify why I deserve benefits. I’m lucky to come from a family that have jobs, not everyone is so lucky but that does not make someone undeserving of benefits.

We live in a country that is often there to help people in need and we are very lucky that we do. If your relative were to crash their motorbike would you feel ashamed that the NHS treated him or her, or would the patient feel the need to justify their reasons as to why they deserved treatment…I doubt it.

There is so much shame and stigma attached to receiving benefits and I am aware that there are people who have given it a bad name, for example people who commit fraud and fake illnesses in order to get money and whilst the media may give a lot of coverage to people who abuse the benefits system, these people are the minority.

I am ill. I want to work, I want to go to university and earn my own money and I will one day but today I am ill. I feel that often people look at me and see what I can’t do, they see that I’m not capable of catching a bus into town on my own or I’m not capable of making myself dinner but look at what I can do instead. Today I got out of bed, today I got dressed, today I wrote a blog post. For me these a massive things, they take a lot of effort and energy. I have to fight my way through everything. I am not well enough to work, I might not be in a wheelchair, you might not be able to see my disability but it’s there.

There is nothing shameful about receiving benefits because you are mentally unwell. It does not make you weak or a drain on society. You are a person in need and it is okay to ask for help. It is okay to receive help. Everyone needs money to live.

Without benefits recovery would be almost impossible, people would have to rely on family or friends to house them, feed them, pay for travel and toiletries and not everyone is fortunate¬†enough to have people who can do that. My recovery from anorexia would be pointless if I couldn’t buy food. Without recovery there is zero chance of me getting into a place where employment is possible again. Benefits actually help people to get back into work. Before you judge a person for receiving benefits think about this: if it was your mum, brother, daughter or spouse in need of help and support wouldn’t you feel differently? Wouldn’t you want them to be able to eat and have a roof over their head, particularly as they are already unwell and vulnerable?

Who Benefits also looks at the positive impact that benefits have on society in an attempt to change the debate surrounding claims and claimants.

http://www.whobenefits.org.uk/page/content/front