I'm writing this post because I'm so angry with this Guardian article, Suicide threats don't help disability debate, by Sharon Brennan:
I fear that the rhetoric used to draw attention to our community will close off the ears of the public. Threatening suicide is not just extreme, it sounds overtly engineered to make any discussion of disability benefit reform sound callous. Talking of increased pain, social isolation, inability to maintain a dignified life have a worthy place in the debate, but is it ethical to phrase the fight for benefits in the context of life or death?
Suicide isn't a political tactic for me, and you're lucky, dear readers and Guardian article authors, if you can look at the real risk of suicide among mentally ill disability benefits recipients and think of it as a tactical thing that other people do.
I don't know how much you know about claiming disability benefits on mental health grounds, but let me assure you that you don't get Disability Living Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Employment Support Allowance for Mental Health issues because you're 'having a bit of a bad day' -- you need evidence, from a GP, a Psychiatrist, and a Community Psychiatric Nurse or Occupational Therapist, of serious long-lasting problems -- which often includes self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and/or actual suicide attempts.
The Department for Work and Pensions don't just hand over disability benefits because you ask nicely. The DWP & ATOS' medical assessments for benefits are designed for physical health problems, with mental health problems tacked on as a bit of an afterthought, so for someone who is mentally ill, they are the equivalent, in terms of stress, of passing a job interview or being made redundant, plus being threatened with moving house and/or having your house repossessed, since benefits link to Housing Benefit, so if you lose your disability benefits you can lose some or all of your Housing Benefit.
In your article, Ms. Brennan, you talk about
the talk of "potential" suicideThank you for using those patronisingly skeptical quotemarks around the issue of "potential" suicide. Or as I like to call it in my reality, suicide.
Suicide is not a tactic for me; it's a real risk: TWO of my four suicide attempts were triggered by the stress of medical assessments; one suicide attempt each for Disability Living Allowance and Incapacity Benefit.
I am genuinely happy for you, Ms. Brennan, if you manage to be both physically disabled and mentally well -- and I mean that sincerely; the world needs more happy, kick-ass people with disabilities leading full and varied lives, because disability ISN'T all about suffering and pain -- but I find your ignorance about people with mental health issues insulting.
Referring to a recent survey by Disability Alliance (which found that 9% of people who answered were considering suicide), you say,
I don't doubt that those who responded to the survey are genuinely in fear of losing the very support that makes their life bearable, but should they have been asked about suicide in the first place?Well, considering that a third of people claim disability benefits due to mental health problems, and that many people with physical health problems are also often suffering form various mental illnesses or depressed due to the physical and emotional exhaustion that comes with living with disability, yes that is a valid question.
You go on to say,
Life is too precious to be used as an instrument to fight against government cuts and I can only hope that the very posing of the question hasn't led someone, already living in a climate of fear, to start down a very dark path of desperation.
Well, don't worry your passive-aggressive little head about that -- I was brought to suicide by the process of claiming disability benefits long before this survey came out, and in fact, I haven't even read it yet. Although, the current climate of fear has led me to think suicidal thoughts far more often; turning on the TV has become akin to playing Russian Roulette: will today's speech by [insert politician's name here] be the one that finally tips me over the edge?
Suicidal thoughts are a symptom of depression and also many of the anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and diseases such as dementia. Depression and anxiety often accompany physical health problems, for both disabled people and their carers (who are often invisible victims) due to stress and pain and grief and the severe limitations illness brings to peoples' lives.
Suicide is not a rhetorical device for me - it is a symptom of my illness. It is a symptom -- and a real risk -- of many peoples' illness. When you ask,
is it ethical to phrase the fight for benefits in the context of life or death?I ask you -- is it ethical of you to ask me to lie about my life, my illness, my experience, because talk of my suicidal thoughts upsets you?