Yippee!

Hurrah! We did it! THANK YOU to everyone who contributed to our appeal to raise funds to train 16 volunteers to support people who experience mental distress, before and up to ESA/ PIP tribunals.

We have reached our target of £2250 so we can pay for the trainer, Tom Messere, to travel to London to do the training, provide lunch, and contribute to participants’ travel expenses.

We are also planning a follow on training on appeals/tribunals after June with another trainer Paul Treloar who has kindly offered us a days training.

And at least one participant has committed to train others where they live so the training can be spread far and wide.

The appeal is open until Friday 29 April so you still have time to contribute so we can fund the follow on training.

BACKGROUND

The DWP have £22 million to represent themselves in Personal Independent Payments (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) tribunals (Benefits and Work). Since 2013, people challenging benefit decisions are no longer allowed to get legal aid. This saved the Ministry of Justice – wait for it – £22 million. (CPAG)

In the meantime, disabled people have been struggling to claim the benefits they are entitled to and many have to appeal the DWP decisions – over half the ESA appeals succeed.  However, there isn’t enough support for people throughout the process of claiming because Citizens Advice Bureaux and other advice services are overwhelmed by the demand.

People with mental health problems are at a particular disadvantage when claiming PIP and ESA. The criteria are framed in terms of physical impairment and the impact of assessments are having a negative impact on our mental health – an article in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in November 2015 links WCA tests for ESA with possible additional 590 suicides, increased mental health problems and hundreds of thousands of antidepressant prescriptions.

Jobs

The following blog post on Critical Mental Health Nurses’ Network has been contributed by Jonathan Gadsby.

This week in the Guardian newspaper published an opinion piece by columnist George Monbiot on the subject of neoliberalism. Those interested in critical ideas about mental health will have noticed that it is a word which gets mentioned increasingly. Before Monbiot’s piece, I would have recommended David Harvey’s introductory book (see below), but Monbiot hits the major themes in just a few thousand words.

You look fine… you don’t need help!

WOMEN’S EXPERIENCE IN THE PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES – APPEARANCE AND ARTICULACY

Following a few comments on our Facebook Group, about how some of us were lounging about in our PJs on a Sunday afternoon, a discussion about how women’s appearance and behaviour can affect how we are seen and treated in the mental health system. Joanna said there was potential for a conference and research on the issue of women’s appearance in Mental Health services as it impacts on diagnosis, assessment of needs and risk.
So we decided to start with a blog post based on a couple of discussions in the Facebook group.

HOW WE LOOK

Joanna: ‘Dishevelled/smelly (I currently qualify) required for SZC/psychosis. [Joanna is currently waiting for a plumber to fix the water supply in her flat!]. Medical student told me that during her MH placement a psychiatrist said he knew if a woman had BPD “just by looking at her” and he referred to “too much eyeliner” or skirts being “too short”.

Joanna: Some women have been refused help because they looked ‘too smart’

AE: Many women I know need to dress well when feeling bad and put on make up in order to get the strength to leave the house at all. Like putting on a costume and mask to hide behind when in public.

Joanna: for some women putting on reasonable clothes, looking clean, bit of makeup has nothing to do with ‘care’ or function even. It can be as you say the only way to face the outside world. It can also be a protection because looking dishevelled actually draws attention. It might also be the only thing a woman feels able to do for herself taking a lot of effort

Michelle B: make-up has had the thumbs up that I am well enough if I am wearing make-up — this is a sexist thing make-up hair die and so on, clothes yes angry if in red yellow or other colours

Victoria: I will never forget a comment from a nurse when I was 17 – 17-“”you silly girl, you’re pretty, there’s no need to hurt yourself”….?!?!?!?

Anon: When I was 17, my first hospitalisation… From a nurse, “but you look like a model! You shouldn’t be in here…”

Deborah: The first time I saw my psychiatrist he said in front of the ward round that I was ‘an extremely attractive young woman” and then seemed to use it to negate my description of how bad I was feeling. Sadly from then on because I hated being called that and for fear of not being believed I looked after myself less and less, doubled in weight, barely washed by hair and only wore black. At least 15 years later (after I had moved 100 miles away, still had a couple of appointments with him a year but didn’t feel under constant scrutiny) I dared to wear something brighter and put on some lipstick. And yes, you’ve guessed it, he immediately said how much better I was!

Katy: I asked my friend to buy me prison-style garb last time I was in hospital coz I was being treated like a criminal offender or a thug…a nurse in the PICU braided my hair to complete the look smile emoticon

Lydia: In my craziest days I used to test out the system. If family claimed I was ill and I had to be assessed I used to wear something slightly outrageous and it would always be picked up on by a psychiatrist. (Shows I WAS off my head to risk that). I can’t tell you the number of times my appearance has been commented on in nursing reports though, and I have spent hours changing trying to decide what to wear to give a psychiatrist or social worker the right impression e.g. not red — he already thinks I’m angry. And that’s too bright = high. Lawd what a pain!

Joanna: Assumptions are made about women who self-harm in relation to their appearance and mental state. For example, “what’s a pretty girl like you doing this for?”, and “you’ve defaced yourself”

Joanna: Through to accusations of “flaunting” of the body if any scar is visible

Joanna: Weight and assumptions. It’s always assumed that any woman with an above “normal BMI” through to “morbid obesity” has a “good appetite”. I have seen friends in hospital going doolally through lack if nutrition but staff ignoring because of their weight & assumptions. Conversely, thin women harassed endlessly about eating.

Tincey: From ignoring weight as a factor to not understanding metabolism and stress, policing the body seems to occur (at least for women, can’t speak for men) across the board in medical or other services, along with moral judgement. I was seriously ill and having a lecture on being overweight, not taking into account the various factors involved (so common to have issues in PTSD and CPTSD). So many services still espouse the idea that it’s calories in/calories out and that it’s down to our beloved ‘lifestyle choice’ so lectures along the lines of everything will be fine if you stop being a pig — miracle cure.

Joanna: Not eating, weight loss, dishevelled is the correct appearance for women SUs

Sue: I rarely leave the house without full make up /extra defence mechanism/protective layer which apparently means all is OK. And I agree with the BMI thing-still not malnourished looking enough for help apparently and if I try to lose more weight to tick their anorexia boxes I’m obviously acting out using BPD attention seeking tactics.

Liz: My favourite thing I read about myself is that once in an appointment I “sat down very aggressively”

Liz: Oh I have long been told “clothing” part of my various pathologies, this is nothing new comrade……dark clothes all the same colour safer.

Lydia: I’ve always felt that my image doesn’t help. There’s some idea that I’m a quiet wallflower, which is clearly not the case, and the more I try to act in the way that’s expected the less I am me, but I’ve also tried being myself and it means a very long section. Compliance is the key.

We made the links between appearing smartly dressed and being perceived as articulate — professionals often mistake these as meaning the person is functioning and not in distress. Alternatively, articulacy can increase the risk of being diagnosed with BPD or confused with pressure of speech and hypomania.

ARTICULACY

Katy: My ‘articulacy’ was called hypomania…I told that shrink that I was not being hypomanic — it was my intelligence talking and if he could not keep up I’d talk more slowly for him !

Jane: Yeah I had pressure of speech because the psych reviews were less than 10 mins and he wouldn’t let me get a word in. So in 2 mins a week I was meant to cover everything.

My psyche has always commented on my being intelligent and articulate, and if quiet & less arsey would be more worried re mental state

Sandra: Also I think noting if had not bothered looking better dressed. GP frequently tells me her comments on my insight. Think can be misleading re how feeling

Sandra: Maybe we would all be shocked to see how we are perceived in notes by all profs

Joanna: “Insight” doesn’t = coping or not at risk. Every woman I’ve known who has died by suicide was intelligent & articulate & had “insight”. They just couldn’t get support.

Sandra: Yeah that the most scary when I have felt at real risk have been seen to be coping well.

Joanna: I’ve been considered suicidal when I haven’t & never been accurately ‘assessed’.

Sue: ”You’re obviously an intelligent woman-I don’t know why you can’t deal with your traumas in a more appropriate manner”
Joanna: Intelligence meaning that automatically means there’s no distress
Joanna: Why is this not said to Stephen Fry?
Sue: Because he’s rich and privileged
Joanna So only poorer intelligent people supposed to think their way out of distress
Sue: Yes and PD diagnosis = “at it”
Joanna: Intelligence = insight
Sue: Intelligence=insight=manipulation.

Anon: I can relate to this so much. One example I can give is phoning the (needless to say useless) CPN’s once when very distressed & suicidal, to be told “you’re an intelligent woman, you tell me: who’s in charge of your actions? Who’s in charge?” as if that would be “empowering” in some way…

Anon: Also being denied crisis care because I was “articulate” “intelligent” and “displayed good insight”… If you can describe your experiences of mentalness then you don’t need support. And if you can’t communicate them you don’t need support either, because “we’re not mind readers! ”

Anon: I came to the conclusion months ago that the only way to get support in a crisis is through actions, not words. Which obviously is incredibly risky. And “manipulative”

Sue: Being processed through the self harm team telling them I’m going to OD again without extra support and being told that’s my choice.

Sandra: Never ever be angry, because that is only behaviour of loons, don’t get angry with receptionists at CMHT who are asking bloody personal questions cos of course none of these ppl ever get angry fuck fuck

Joanna: Anger is particularly not acceptable from women & black men

Lydia: And swearing is not acceptable from “respectable” women which means I’m not. Maybe I need to clarify that with my psyche next time I see him.

Megan: I am struggling right now, asked several professionals for help and was told no as I was articulate. Spoke to Social Worker and Support Worker and they seen I was struggling and said it was completely wrong to judge my mental state on whether I am able to complete a sentence or not. AHHHH!

Michelle CM: My GP told me I was “intelligent enough” to grasp the concepts of therapy from a self help book so I didn’t need a referral anywhere.

Naomi: I have had issues with being too ‘open’ in that they thought it was part of my BPDness and I should be avoided…
Joanna: but if you had not been open you would have been failing to engage.

Jane: relating this to appearance/articulacy — for a woman even being polite but distant is not enough — you have to come across as ‘genuinely’ warm, respectful, deferential, of staff. Also sense that if you do behave positively/politely but staff don’t believe you share their views then you are regarded suspiciously as manipulating them somehow. I think this reflects something I once read somewhere — in psychiatry ‘compliance’ isn’t enough you have to be brainwashed too — employees/workers just need to be polite/do what they are told even if they don’t agree — psychiatric patients have to agree with what is done to them or they are asked to do — domination not just of the body but the psyche too

CONCLUSION

When women seek help from services, especially when in crisis, we are judged on what can be seen and rarely given the chance to explain our distress. Workers refuse to believe we can be as distressed as we are because we can look ok and we are not given the chance to explore what is really going on beneath the surface. We believe this is based on sexist and sanist assumptions and on the pressure on workers to refuse services to cut costs.

As Michelle said “people judge you by this idea of femininity rather than as a person”

——

These are excerpts from two long discussions – we have only included comments from the women who agreed to be included.
We have rearranged the order of the comments in places to make it read a bit more coherently.
The discussion also included some linked issues:

  1. sexual harassment and abuse within psychiatric services
  2. judgements on our sexuality – our sexual behaviour, relationship status and our sexual orientation
  3. the intersections between gender and race and class
  4. women’s experiences in forensic and criminal justice services

We think these deserve more discussion – look out for future blog posts on these topics.

Fuck Neoliberalism

Fuck Neoliberalism by Simon Springer, Department of Geography, University of Victoria

Email: simonspringer@gmail.com Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnarchistGeog

Read the whole paper at https://www.academia.edu/23908958/Fuck_Neoliberalism

Extract:

Abstract: Yep, fuck it. Neoliberalism sucks. We don’t need it. Keywords: fuck neoliberalism; fuck it to hell

Fuck neoliberalism. That’s my blunt message. I could probably end my discussion at this point and it wouldn’t really matter. My position is clear and you likely already get the gist of what I want to say. I have nothing positive to add to the discussion about neoliberalism, and to be perfectly honest, I’m quite sick of having to think about it. I’ve simply had enough. For a time I had considered calling this paper ‘Forget Neoliberalism’ instead, as in some ways that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I’ve been writing on the subject for many years (Springer 2008, 2009, 2015; Springer et al. 2016) and I came to a point where I just didn’t want to commit any more energy to this endeavor for fear that continuing to work around this idea was functioning to perpetuate its hold. On further reflection I also recognize that as a political maneuver it is potentially quite dangerous to simply stick our heads in the sand and collectively ignore a phenomenon that has had such devastating and debilitating effects on our shared world. There is an ongoing power to neoliberalism that is difficult to deny and I’m not convinced that a strategy of ignorance is actually the right approach (Springer 2016). So my exact thoughts were, ‘well fuck it then’, and while a quieter and gentler name for this paper could tone down the potential offence that might come with the title I’ve chosen, I subsequently reconsidered. Why should we be more worried about using profanity than we are about the actual vile discourse of neoliberalism itself? I decided that I wanted to transgress, to upset, and to offend, precisely because we ought to be offended by neoliberalism, it is entirely upsetting, and therefore we should ultimately be seeking to transgress it. Wouldn’t softening the title be making yet another concession to the power of neoliberalism? I initially worried what such a title might mean in terms of my reputation. Would it hinder future promotion or job offers should I want to maintain my mobility as an academic, either upwardly or to a new location? This felt like conceding personal defeat to neoliberal disciplining. Fuck that.

Read the whole paper at https://www.academia.edu/23908958/Fuck_Neoliberalism

Workfare Coercion In The UK

Workfare coercion in the UK: an assault on persons with disabilities and their human rights by Anne-Laure Donskoy, Survivor researcher, UK

“While there is a lot of focus on coercion organised and implemented in psychiatry, less attention is being paid to state engineered welfare measures based on libertarian paternalism, which have coercive practices at their core. Among them are policies that strongly support behavioural change using positive psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy. Freidli and Stearn (2015) call this “psychocompulsion”. These policies and measures are increasingly used to ambush and coerce persons with disabilities and the long term sick into adopting new ways of being and living conditions under the constant threat of sanctions. They have driven many to attempt to their lives. This paper builds on the work of Friedli and Stearn as an attempt to highlight current coercive welfare policies, including forcing ‘therapy’ on individuals, as human rights violation of the CRPD.”

Downloadable here: https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/file/Workfare%20coercion%20in%20the%20UK_AL%20Donskoy.pdf

BMJ Censorship Complaint

Recovery In The Bin complained to BMJ (details below) on 3rd November 2015. They never responded in spite of being sent four e-mail reminders.

Dear Editors,

Recovery in the Bin, an Internet based group with a large following, is writing to express its disappointment and concerns about your decision not to publish a piece by ‘SECTIONED’ in 7 November 2015 issue, which focused on coercion in psychiatry. The BMJ effectively implemented a policy of censorship by demanding a number of deletions of what is regarded as legally sensitive content, as a condition for publication.

These deletions included key testimonies of service user experiences of coercion and force in psychiatric hospitals. We believe it is essential that your readership hears about the nature of this coercion, especially as detainment under the Mental Health Act has risen by 10% in England, data collected by Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

This Group profoundly objects to the author being told that they could not mention their personal experiences of forced treatment unless the staff involved had been prosecuted. This represents a disproportionately high threshold for submission, thus preventing genuine exposure of unethical practice being aired in a spirit of openness and learning. We believe on the contrary that the BMJ should be leading the way by drawing attention to these experiences, in a truthful fashion, and we perceive the risks of being sued for doing so is very doubtful. It is in fact more likely that such testimonies would be dismissed as the expression of someone’s ‘paranoia’, ‘illness’ and ‘delusion’.

While this Group has always believed that the BMJ’s vocation was to disseminate robust research findings and experiences of shared learning, with a view to modify and improve clinical practice, it appears to us that in this instance the BMJ’s judgement is at odds with its own principles and objectives. This raises the following questions: Is the BMJ lacking foresight in its refusal to support difficult experiences that show up the failings of the mental health system? Would it act in the same way had the author of the piece been a mental health practitioner?

We look forward to reading your response.

Yours Sincerely,

Recovery In The Bin (Mental Health Group)

Recovery In The Bin: Welfare Rights Training for ESA/ PIP

https://www.chuffed.org/project/recovery-in-the-bin-welfare-rights-training-for-esa-pip

The government has allocated £22 million towards recruiting presenting officers at benefit claims tribunals over the next two years. The detail was buried in the Budget announced on 16th March. They claim this is to support the department in personal independent payments and employment and support allowance tribunals. The money will pay for 180 new presenting officers.
Personal independence payments (PIPs) are gradually replacing disability living allowance (DLA), which is supposed to help with the extra costs that come with living with a disability. In January next year, the formula used to calculate PIP’s daily living component will change. 290,000 disabled people will lose the payment completely and 80,000 will have their benefit cut. The government clearly expects to be fighting more claims over reduced disability benefits in the coming years.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Presenting Officers assist tribunals by giving both the legal case for the appeal, the Department’s case for upholding the original decision but also by drawing attention to any new and relevant evidence. By increasing the number of Presenting Officers, we will help ensure the right decision is achieved at each appeal.”

But there’s a problem

In its consultation paper; Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid, the Ministry of Justice proposes to save £22 million by removing welfare benefits matters from the scope of legal aid funding. This is part of a plan to cut a quarter of the legal aid budget, with social welfare law the main target. Social security is the largest subject area being removed from the scope of legal aid after families. From 1st April 2013 legal aid was no longer available for advice on how to challenge benefits decisions.
People with mental health diagnoses often find it hard to fill out ESA/ PIP forms let alone represent themselves at tribunals. Especially those with more severe conditions such as schizophrenia. It doesn’t take much to figure that people in these situations are going to find it harder to get the representation they need.
On top of this there is evidence that the tests themselves are leading to greater stress, either exacerbating preexisting conditions or negatively impacting on the mental health of people with other disabilities. A study published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in November 2015, showed a correlation between worsening mental health and assessments under the WCA, published last week, that linked the WCA tests with a possible additional 590 suicides, increased mental health problems and hundreds of thousands of antidepressant prescriptions. Volunteers such as ours could help lessen that distress.

Here’s what we’re doing about it

We have asked Welfare trainer Tom Messere, author of the Big Book of Benefits, if he would train 20 volunteers in the basics that they will support people up to these tribunals to give them a bit more of a fighting chance. And whilst we have Tom at our disposal we are also we will be training the volunteers to help fill out the often complex and confusing forms, so that less have to go to tribunal in the first place. The training will be on ESA and PIP, form filling, getting any available medical and informal evidence correctly pitched (what the person needs to ask for), possible calls, key pointers for accompanying, and up to tribunals.

You can join us

We are hoping you can donate to help pay for the training, the venue, transport and accommodation for Tom, and as we are recruiting volunteers, many on low incomes themselves, and as we will need to have representatives in as many places as we can (sorry, we wish we could provide for everywhere) then we are trying to raise as much help for their travel as well.

As such we are looking to raise £2250.