I Won by Sam Ambreen

{CN for suicide, self harm, mental health}

13 months after my personal independence payments were cut, I won my 2nd tribunal. 13 months of crowdfunding my rent. 13 months of reducing my food intake, buying the cheaper brand, going without, and feeling humiliated but on Friday, a panel ruled in my favour. There was no objection from the DWP representative who, I could have sworn, was even crying at one point. I felt bad for scowling at her after that!

I self harmed 4 times during that period, when I absolutely could not comply with the measures I’ve worked at to protect myself. I dissociated more frequently. I got as far as buying the instruments I would need to end it. Drew up a plan. Resisted writing the suicide note because that would make it final, and only because the people around me pulled through when I shared my invasive thoughts (a thing I was only able to do because I’d been taught, by my first therapist). They reminded me I’d managed to survive this long because people wanted to help me. They made me think about the people who look to me for strength and how my demise would impact on them. I didn’t really care in that split second but when the feverish urges passed I felt a bit sheepish I’ll admit. People do take strength from my courage.

When the DWP cut me off and sent me their decision, they said they were not disputing the fact that I had these disabilities just whether or not I qualified for personal independence payments. 13 months on and I’ve just been told I do. So was it really necessary to put me through this? What is its purpose otherwise? Survival of the fittest? It’s not strictly true anymore though is it? I’m nowhere near the fittest but I have recourse; to advocates, to friends who work in the public sector and health professionals who actually listen. Perhaps this mum didn’t?

Even with all the support I have, I came the closest I ever have to ending it. I didn’t enjoy asking for help, again and again, I was isolated and lonely as a result. I might be an anarcho-communist but I still have the hardwiring of a society that celebrates charity as a virtue but not if you’re on the receiving end. The shame still lingers. I didn’t want to die, I felt I had no other choice.

Recently I read about a young woman called Holly Cowlam who took her own life when she was diagnosed with depression. Holly had been studying psychology and so had some understanding of mental health. I get the sense, because she knew her chances in life would be greatly affected, as they are in a society that demonises mental health, she felt she had no other option. I know what that’s like; the shame and hopelessness. I refused to acknowledge my own mental health for 20 years, telling myself I was stronger than those others who had succumbed. In the end, you can’t really prevent it. I am the sum total of all the violence and treachery inflicted on me but with the right support, and freedom, and protection, I know I can get better.

holly-cowlam

What I do not need, and could have really done without, was being treated like I’m making it up. As a repeat victim of sexual and domestic violence, gaslighting is a straight up trigger for my PTSD. Being treated like I am insignificant and somehow asking for more than what is my right, having paid into a system for many years and on an emergency tax code more often than not (I did a lot of temp work because I was sick even then only I wouldn’t admit it) eventually wore me down in a way my mental and physical conditions do not, because I believe I can overcome them (to an extent). I needed time and space to heal not to be hindered by a cruel and abusive process.

Advocates for humanity must ramp up the pressure on this government and demand justice for all those who’ve needlessly died in our country. The architects of social cleansing must be tried for their crimes against our humanity.

You can judge a country by the way it treats its animals/poor/prisoners/women/disabled folk.

Republished (23/02/19) by kind permission, Sam Ambreen blogs at Left At The Lights

If you need help dealing with the DWP see our Advice Links page.

Note: PIP application processes generally require disclosure of diagnoses, medication, and supporting evidence, making it significantly discriminatory and arduous for many people. Professionals are often uninformed about how best to help people, this is a good guide.

Unrecovery Artwork In The Wild

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Gary Writes:- On Wednesday I was admitted to an acute psychiatric ward yet again, after attempting suicide. On Friday I decided to draw Recovery in the Bin’s Unrecovery Star as a way of explaining why I can’t ‘recover’ from my mental distress and how the Social Model of Madness is so often ignored by professionals working in mental health settings. Recovery, in my opinion, has become a buzzword in mental health settings. It’s not that I don’t want to recover, but it is the failure to realise the social, political and human rights issues that stop my recovery.

I began drawing the Unrecovery Star at the table in the communal area of the ward. Patients and staff were interested in what I was drawing and began to ask questions which I answered as best I could without too many personal details.

My named nurse asked to speak to me privately about my art work. I explained to her that mental health services seem to only focus on my ‘symptoms’ and diagnosis of ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ with ‘psychosis’. The answer, especially when I am sectioned, seems to be to add more medication and the root causes of what led me to be in a locked ward are often not even discussed and ignored. In fact the staff often don’t have time to speak to me at all.

I told her that the despair that had led me to try to take my life had been caused by a variety of reasons. I am in debt as my ESA payments have been suspended pending a fraud investigation as I failed (again) to ask permission to get paid for permitted work. The ever decreasing welfare benefits I live on, the recent stressful events when applying for PIP, the face to face assessment, appealing the decision, and the enormous fear of soon having to apply for Universal Credit that I can’t even face. I told her that any loss in benefits could see me homeless once again. My Personal Budget which helps me to live in the community by employing a Personal Assistant is also due to be reviewed and I expect the budget to be reduced. The thought of having to try to detail and justify the struggles I face, to do even the most basic daily living tasks is horrendous.

I detailed the transphobia I face daily from my family and the nasty arguments I read on social media regarding transgender people. The fact that I am waiting for an appointment at the gender identity clinic and how I feel I don’t ‘fit’ into a female ward. Yet, I don’t ‘pass’ as a man and therefore would be afraid to be on a male ward. The fact that some staff and patients call me by my preferred name but use the wrong pronouns. That gender dysphoria is cripplingly distressing but that I have no support to talk about this.

I talked about the iatrogenic trauma I have endured for the last two and a half decades of being in secondary mental health services and during the many times I have been locked away. I likened it to the childhood physical, sexual and emotional abuse I was a victim of and how I can’t call myself a ‘survivor’ as I am in many ways still a victim of control, coercion, abuse, trauma and power by the very people who are supposed to be ‘helping and supporting’ me to ‘recover’.

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I stuck the Unrecovery Star I had drawn on to my bedroom door and was surprised at the ongoing interest by staff and patients. Some staff have signed it in agreement and with messages of support. The other evening some of the patients asked me to explain more about the drawing and we had an in depth and respectful discussion with all opinions being taken into account and valued.

I’m seeing the Consultant Psychiatrist tomorrow during ward round and I will be taking my drawing to show him and to try to explain the circumstances that led to the desperate act that led me once again to be sectioned. I will ask the ward manager if I can leave my Unrecovery Star on the wall of the ward when I eventually get to leave.

Yes, people like me, need the hope of recovery. However, I believe people need to know that there are many issues that stop my recovery. That I am unrecovered. Society as a whole has to take responsibility for giving me hope of recovery. As I finish writing, I’ve just looked at my drawing of the Unrecovery Star on my bedroom door and I notice two more signatures from fellow patients.

I wonder how many lives could be saved if a robust “Social Model of Madness, Distress & Confusion” was universally adopted. I wonder if my brother may have been saved.

Esther McVey and the Samaritans: Psychologists for Social Change and Recovery in the Bin respond

Psychologists for Social Change and Recovery in the Bin response to news of Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions’, position on the Samaritans’ Advisory board.

As a group of psychologists (Psychologists for Social Change) and service users (Recovery in the Bin) we are deeply concerned at news that Esther McVey has a role on Samaritans’ advisory board and believe that holding this along with her position as secretary of state constitutes a conflict of interest.

We think a position advising the Samaritans is incompatible with the beliefs she has been shown to hold based on her record in government. Esther McVey is a conservative government minister with a long record of voting and working to reduce support for those requiring welfare benefits. She has consistently voted against any increases in welfare benefits, including for people who are unable to work through illness and disability and, over a three year period, supported a reduction in total welfare spending 29 times. In addition she has consistently voted to reduce housing benefit for those social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (‘the bedroom tax’).

People experiencing financial difficulties are at an increased risk of developing mental health problems (Kiely et al., 2015), being associated with self-harm (Barnes et al., 2016) and depression (Mirowosky & Ross, 2001). Increases in suicide rates have also been associated with times of economic crises (Branas et al., 2015). As such the Samaritans have become something of a lifeline for people suffering the consequences of the reduction and removal of crucial welfare support. It is frequently recommended by stretched Mental Health Services for whom crisis services may be minimal or non-existent, meaning the Samaritans can sometimes be the last resort for people who may feel suicidal.

Representatives of Recovery in the Bin, a group of mental health service users, have described this as an issue of trust and respect, experiencing her decisions and their consequences as abusive and detrimental to their mental and physical health. They drew attention to the fact that the United Nations have found the UK government and particularly the DWP guilty of ‘grave & systemic’ human rights abuses which have caused a ‘human catastrophe’ for disabled people. Therefore they state it is wrong to have a human rights abuser on a charity board, especially when that charity is supposed to help people who are harmed by her decisions.

Representatives from Recovery in the Bin noted that benefit cuts are a leading cause of crisis for mental health service users. Service users and more who are now discharged through service cuts feel betrayed by the Dept of Work and Pensions who have been shown to disproportionately discriminate against mental health claimants as court cases demonstrate. They are also the sole group targeted for employment as a “health outcome” which amounts to sanctions, workfare and removal of benefits.The insertion of Job Centre Plus into libraries and GP surgeries leave service users feeling that there are virtually no safe spaces left from the very government department they are affected by. Some will not not feel able to use the Samaritans until this additional imposition is rectified by the removal of Esther McVey.