Front Line Focus: Gift-wrapped misery

The dark days of winter are upon us. I’m writing this in bed on a day off from the day job. It hardly seems worth getting up, it’s so gloomy outside.

Perhaps I have seasonal affective disorder – SAD. Apparently half a million people do, and it’s no laughing matter. Symptoms include sleep problems, lethargy, over-eating, depression, social problems, loss of libido and mood swings. I should invest in a light machine, leave the country for warmer climes or take St John’s wort. The light therapy I can certainly believe works, and on a sunny winter’s day I’d be the first to put on my thermals and head for a winter hike.

Quote from 29 November issue from p8Alternatively I could go and watch the Christmas lights being switched on. All over the country we’ve been treated to glitzy ceremonies involving “celebrities” from Strictly Come Dancing or X Factor. On each occasion I wonder if I am the only person who’s never heard of them. We had a soap star who graced the switch-on at our major regional indoor shopping centre by attempting to take “lighting up” a little too literally. Give me Noddy “live” any day to switch on the lights. He’s cheap and he doesn’t smoke.

As if the winter blues wasn’t enough, Gordon Brown has a lovely early Christmas present for people on incapacity benefit. He wants them off it. Wouldn’t it be nice? People who’ve been on it more than two years are statistically more likely to never work again than to get a job. There is no way that illness or disability should preclude anybody from working if they want to, but shattered confidence and lack of support can.

Of course we all hear of people who claim incapacity benefit for a bad back, then go out and lay patios or clean windows for cash in hand. But for each of these there is another genuine claimant who would love to work but encounters prejudice and obstacles at every turn. If we could overcome those barriers and create opportunities I’ve no doubt there are thousands of people who would love to come off benefits and enter employment, given the right training, adjustments and support.

Meanwhile, some people on incapacity benefit may be unable to get out in the occasional winter sun, and might be more prone to SAD than the rest of us. The prospect of losing their income may make them sadder still.

Jennifer Harvey is a day services co-ordinator working with people with learning disabilities

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