From 1991 to 2003 I was out of paid work due to mental distress. My
negative voices often tell me I am a “fat, lazy cow” and I do not
always disagree with them. But as I journey down the road to
recovery, I have done increasing amounts of voluntary work as a
service user representative, especially in the past five years. In
2002 I was granted a Real Lives Real People Mind Millennium Award
to run a creative writing project. It went extremely well. This
coincided with some major steps forward in my recovery thanks to
the input of an excellent psychologist. I began to consider
returning to paid work of some kind.
Having looked at the options open to me I decided to become
self-employed to allow enough flexibility and for fear of employer
discrimination. In 2003 I started Moonflower Enterprises, a small
business engaged in writing, creative writing tutoring and mental
health training and consultancy. However, I find the demands of
running a business have a negative impact on my mental health.
I saw a disability employment adviser to see whether I could get
any help but the funding she can access was geared towards people
with physical and sensory disabilities. It is the same old story.
People with mental health needs are overlooked by just about every
agency out there. This is extremely frustrating when you are trying
to help yourself and move your life on.
Disability living allowance presents similar difficulties. People
with mental distress may, like myself, have problems using public
transport. I am not eligible for high rate mobility and access to
the motability scheme. I went through the whole intimidating and
stressful process without success. I am lucky to receive a high
rate care component – many people with mental distress have
difficulty applying successfully for any care component – but it is
not enough to provide the help I need. For the past five years I’ve
been trying to convince various mental health workers to help me
apply for direct payments. Perhaps I confuse them by functioning
quite well on a higher level but they don’t understand I am unable
to function on a basic level. I know from mixing with other service
users that I am not alone in presenting such a seeming paradox.
Still, I do not have the help at home that would enable me to be in
a fit state to work. I also cannot get a support worker to help me
be effective in self-employment. Despite this I took the plunge and
came off benefit in order to put in more hours, but I struggle to
run the business efficiently without help. I also become very
stressed, which is detrimental to my mental health. This is
incredibly frustrating, as the business cannot meet its potential
due to my mental health disability. Are mental health needs really
so difficult to understand that even some mental health
professionals don’t seem to grasp them?
Amanda Wells is a mental health service user.