A radical mental health consumer’s thoughts on the welfare reforms

October 18, 2012
Welfare reform will have a negative effect on those experiencing mental illness or distress

Welfare reform will have a negative effect on those experiencing mental illness or distress

Polly Peek

This month, the Mental Health Foundation is organising activities and events for Mental Health Awareness Week. For the last few years, the theme of awareness week has been based on the ‘Five Winning Ways to Wellbeing’, the essence of a number of studies into what makes people (whether labelled with a mental illness or not) well and happy. From the research, five key aspects of wellness have been identified, namely, connecting with others – family or friends, being active, keeping learning, taking notice of the small things around us, and giving to others.

For people living with the assistance of welfare benefits, ‘giving’, this important aspect of wellness is considerably restricted. Not only do most people living on state assistance receive less than is adequate to look after themselves, let alone have surplus to give to charity or lend to friends in need, but they are also excluded from offering their time voluntarily to charitable organisations or community groups as Work and Income policy sees this as potentially interfering with their ability to find work, or, if they are receiving a Sickness or Invalids benefit, proof of their ability to be in paid employment. I spoke with one such person a few days ago who has received support for a long period of time due to disability and she expressed sadness and frustration that a person she knows in a similar situation is having to hide the fact that they are helping out with a local charity from WINZ.

Recently, the government has revealed welfare reforms which will have a further dire impact on people’s mental health and that of mental health consumers in particular. These follow an initial wave of welfare reforms which have made changes to assistance available to youth in particular. Announced changes to welfare policy include completely cancelling assistance for three months for people who are considered to have turned down a suitable job, halving assistance for people whose children are not enrolled with a GP or early childcare centre, and cutting assistance for people who fail or refuse a drug test at a new job, or have outstanding arrest warrants. Read the rest of this entry »


The dialectical relationship between work and mental health – Part 4

April 12, 2012

This is the final instalment of a four-part series by Kelly Pope

From a Marxist perspective, the low pay rates of jobs with low psycho-social quality is related to the concept of exploitation – the necessity for wages to be worth less than the value created by the worker’s labour, in order to continue to make a profit. A further component of employment’s potential detriment to mental health, well-being and recovery which is not covered in the research carried out by Butterworth and other (see part 3), is workers’ experiences of alienation. In his book which looks at work and sickness, Paul Bellaby discusses the way in which jobs can accentuate certain qualities of the body and mind, but can also depreciate others. A participant from one of the qualitative interviews quoted in this book talks about alienation with great clarity, as well as its impact on well-being as a worker undertaking solitary tasks.

You hardly talk to anyone. You have no idea what is happening around you – and you lose touch with what is happening in the world. After a while it gets so that you have no conversation, and when you go out socially you do not know what to say – eventually you lose all your self-confidence. (Bellaby) Read the rest of this entry »


The dialectical relationship between work and mental health: part 3

February 23, 2012

This article is part three in a series of articles by Kelly Pope. The first two parts can be read in the January and February issues of The Spark or online here (part 1) and here (part 2)

The low employment rates for people experiencing mental ill health can be attributed to a combination of individual discrimination and, more predominantly, systemic barriers. Research into occupational perspectives on recovery by Mary Kelly, Scott Lamont and Scott Brunero, highlighted the experiences of a mental health consumer who was forced to take early retirement by his employers upon disclosure that he was seeing a psychiatrist. This kind of anecdotal evidence may give perspective to the question of whether mental ill health leads to unemployment, or loss of employment erodes resiliency with the suggestion that where illness leads to unemployment, it may, in many cases not result exclusively from symptom recovery but external issues such as inter-personal discrimination.

I would argue that in these situations individual discrimination is a result of a wider systemic issue that is the bottom-line focus of businesses. This priority is evident in research such as that produced by London School of Economics and Political Science researchers which outlines the 10 billion pound annual loss to businesses as a result of “failure of employees to fulfil their contractual hours” while absent from work sick. Extending on this, the authors cite the increasing presence of mental illness in the global burden of disease as a reason for some people being absent from work up to three times as often as their colleagues. While similar finding have featured in New Zealand research such as that undertaken by Southern Cross, and cited in the NZ Herald in 2009, more attention to the abilities of employers to reduce the impact of mental illness on workplace performance could improve employment opportunities for people with mental illness in the absence of a larger societal change away from prioritising profit. Read the rest of this entry »


The Dialectical Relationship between Work and Mental Health: part 2

January 31, 2012

ThisarticleisthesecondofafourpartseriesbyKellyPope.Thefirstpartcanbereadonline here orintheDecember-JanuaryissueofThe Spark.‘Consumer’inthisarticlereferstoapersonwhocurrentlyorhaspreviouslyusedpsychiatricservices.‘Bourdieuian’referstothetheoriesdevelopedbyFrenchSociologistPiereBourdieuand  ‘taangatawhaiora’isaTeReotermthattranslatesto‘personseekingwell-being’.

The instrumental value of employment is that it creates opportunities for mental health consumers to access additional resources to improve their health and wellbeing such as financial resources and supportive social networks. From a Bourdieuian perspective, therefore, employment allows people with experience of mental illness to beneficially increase their social and economic capital. The benefit of these resources has been expanded on in research exploring resilience factors for mental health. One example of this is a 2002 Ministry of Health publication which cites economic security as being crucial for well-being as well as the availability of opportunities. Because of the lower-than-minimum-wage rate of benefits in New Zealand society and difficulties attaining work without experience, the mental health benefits that come from economic security and accessibility of opportunities is likely to disproportionately benefit those in paid work in comparison to the unemployed.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Dialectical Relationship between Work and Mental Health (Part 1)

January 18, 2012

is work good for mental health?

This article is the first in series by Kelly Pope addressing the issues of work and mental health from Marxist perspective. For more information on the concept of dialectics see http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/d/i.htmIn this article the term ‘mental health community’ refers to those people experiencing mental illness or distress, and ‘consumer’ refers to those using or having previously used psychiatric services..

The role work plays in the mental health of people experiencing mental illness is complex, with research on the topic appearing somewhat contradictory on the surface, the most prominent contradiction being whether work is overall beneficial or detrimental to well-being and recovery. Research suggests that employment, or engagement in meaningful contribution is a “critical component of the pathway to recovery” (Mental Health Commission, 2001, cited in Duncan and Peterson, 2007) and that the most significant employment challenge for people experiencing mental illness is overcoming structural barriers to attaining work. At the same time, other studies indicate that the correlation between work and wellness is not so clear-cut, and that the kinds of jobs most accessible to the mental health community are also those with the highest likelihood of decreasingwell-being and obstructing recovery. In approaching this conflict through a dialectical analysis, the question of interplay between work and mental health moves from one of ‘is work more beneficial or detrimental to recovery and wellbeing’ to one of ‘how can the contradictions of employment’s simultaneous facilitation and eroding of wellness be resolved’. Read the rest of this entry »


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