My wife suffers from Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia) and does not work. We appealed a decision to move her into the ESA Work-Related Activity Group in 2013, and that appeal was successful. This is the e-mail Greté wrote, and rather than writing some long blog posts about Greté’s illness, I’m posting this to give you an idea of what she battles with daily. Tomorrow, I’ll post a letter I wrote (but then never sent) to my local MP. I’ll explain why I never sent it in that post.
Again for clarity, this letter is from and about Greté.
Dear Sir / Madam,
On the 6th November 2013 I (Greté) was placed into the ESA Work-Related Activity Group. I am writing to you, to formally ask you to look at the decision again.
I do not believe enough consideration has been given to my mental health and how both looking for work and then trying to hold down a job will affect me.
I tried to answer the questions in the questionnaire honestly, but feel they have not been reviewed fully in context. For example, I would not be able to attend job interviews on my own, and would be unlikely to be able to attend my first day at any new job on my own either. Which prospective employer is prepared to let me attend my first day at work with my husband or someone else I trust so that I don’t have a panic attack? Which employer would let me attend with someone for the first 2 or 3 months until I built up enough confidence and trust in the place of work and the people present so that I could go on my own? Who could even spare the time to attend with me in that situation? That is the reality of my mental health. Can I go to the local Tesco on my own? Yes, because I have been there literally hundreds of times before with my husband. Could I go to a shop I have never been in before? No, and if I were made to it is likely I would suffer a panic attack before I even made it in through the door.
My conditions (dysthymia, panic disorder, agoraphobia) are not cured. I am not well. I suffer from those conditions every day. At best, I manage my surroundings to try and contain the symptoms and ensure I don’t dip into a double depression. I thought that the work-related activity group would include support and counselling to enable me to begin to move towards the process of looking for work. However, in discussion with the Job Centre Plus staff (I attended the interview with my husband) it is clear that level of support does not exist. At best, the process would help me looking for work, but looking for work is not and has never been the issue. As it happens, I had a panic attack during that interview, despite the presence of my husband, and only his presence stopped me leaving the building. Instead, I just sat and cried uncontrollably throughout the whole interview.
The issue with the mental illness that I suffer with daily is that I can not deal with change, stress or pressure, and under those situations I am likely to have a panic attack and essentially ‘run out’ of the workplace. Perhaps, through some miracle, that would be tolerated once or twice, but it would lead to difficult conversations with the company, and those conversations in their own right would lead to more stress and anxiety.
Ultimately these situations would inevitably lead to further depression, self harm and potentially suicidal thoughts. I know this, because it is exactly what happened the last time I tried working in the late 1990’s. I ran out of the work place after suffering a panic attack on my first day, and the following months were some of the deepest depression I have ever suffered, including suicidal thoughts, which led to referral to a psychiatrist.
Although my condition is now fully diagnosed and managed day to day with medication, that only allows me to operate literally day to day. The pressure of work, interview rejection, deadlines, change, and social interaction would inevitably cause the symptoms of my ever present illness to flare up.
The mere thought terrifies me. The whole process of engagement from the ESA terrifies me. In the last month, my desire to self harm has never been stronger and it is only the safety of my own home and family that has helped me rein those feelings in.
I urge you to reconsider my case and place me in the Support Group.