Driven to the brink of suicide: Tyneside Mind launch short film highlighting real experiences

A powerful new film captures the desperate real experiences of being judged “fit for work” for people with mental health problems.

Tyneside Mind launched a short film highlighting the real experiences of three local people with mental health problems undergoing Work Capability Assessment.

The film ‘But I’m here for mental health – three stories of the Work Capability Assessment’ used actors to tell the genuine stories of individuals who were deemed ‘fit for work’ by Atos Healthcare despite the severity of their mental health problems and the significant barriers they face to get into work.

Local MP’s were invited to the showing which was be aired for the first time at Northumbria University Cinema last week.

The film tells the story of two men unfairly dismissed from work due to ill health and one woman whose sleep apnoea and depression prevent her from being able to work. In a particularly poignant moment in the film one man, who can’t write because he has carpal tunnel syndrome, has to admit to his elderly mother that he has contemplated suicide since losing his job as she fills in the application form on his behalf.

Another scene depicts a lady standing on a bridge thinking about ending her life because she has been told she is fit for work.

“It’s been really traumatic and very confusing for people,” said Oliver Wood, vice chairman of Tyneside Mind, who has himself now been back in work for two years after claiming benefits due to a mental health problem.

“They don’t really understand the process or how, when they are really very unwell, seeing senior hospital consultants and receiving support from mental health services, they are being declared fully fit to work because they are physically capable.”

Currently 37% of all North East appeals against decisions to change or remove Employment Support Allowance are successful, which rises to more than two in five for cases involving mental and behavioural disorders.

But Oliver points to Department of Work and Pensions figures for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear which suggest that over the past eight months an average of 2,200 claimants a month – including many with mental health problems – have had their benefits sanctioned and 1,700 a month have given up their claims.

One fear is that many people with mental health problems may be suffering in silence, due to the increasing “stigma” of being on benefits.

The film uses reconstruction to depict service users’ real stories, interspersed with verbatim quotes from Tyneside Mind service users.

With funding from The Millfield House Foundation and support from Helix Arts and Tyneside Mind, the film has been produced by Meerkat Films to help raise awareness of the devastating impact this assessment process can have on vulnerable individuals with complex and fluctuating conditions.

The release of the film also coincides with the Litchfield Review – the fourth annual Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment, which is currently used to determine eligibility for the out-of-work benefit Employment and Support Allowance.

Over a third of assessments involve people who have applied primarily due to a mental health problem and many more applicants experience a mental health problem alongside other illnesses or disabilities. Yet, the film aims to show that the assessment is not suitable for people with mental health problems, and often actually pushes many people further away from the workplace by exacerbating their mental health problems and directing them to inappropriate support and expectations.

Stuart Dexter, Chief Executive of Tyneside Mind, said: “At Tyneside Mind we help people every week with benefits-related enquiries, and our resources are increasingly stretched.

“The people we represent are still not getting a fair outcome from the Work Capability Assessment. The assessment process is not sensitive enough to recognise the impact a mental health problem can have on someone’s ability to work, and can cause a great deal of stress, especially for those who get an unfair decision and then have to go through a lengthy and costly appeals process. This film aims to highlight what it’s really like for the many individuals subjected to this process and urge the Department for Work and Pensions to urgently improve the system.”

Steve, whose name has been changed, but who speaks of his experience of the Work Capability Assessment in the film, said: “The whole assessment process was so traumatic that I really didn’t think I’d be able to recover from it, let alone talk about it.

“Unfortunately I know that there are so many others like me who have felt humiliated and had their views neglected.

“Tyneside Mind suggested I get involved with this project and I wanted to help because I feel it’s so important to raise awareness of the way vulnerable people are being treated. I hope this film will help change things so nobody else will have to endure what I did.”

Source – Newcastle Journal, 27 Dec 2013

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