Imagine going to a hospital to see someone you’d been told had life-threatening injuries as the result of an accident. If you arrived at his bedside to find him sitting up, speaking normally with no evidence of broken limbs or internal injuries you might think you had been directed to the wrong bed. Supposing the explanation was that the accident had occurred some time ago, that the patient had been traumatised and that he had already tried to take his own life. Unlike physical injuries mental illness can remain unseen and as a result, untreated.
While this hypothetical case relates to a man mental illness can obviously affect women as well. However, of the 5,821 suicides registered in the UK in 2017, the male suicide rate was three times higher than the equivalent figure for females. According to the Office of National Statistics, “…. this remains consistent with the rates seen in the last 10 years”. So that every day in 2017 on average, four women and 12 men found themselves in a place so dark that suicide seemed to be the only option.
If you really feel that you, your friends, family, loved ones, colleagues and everyone who knows you would be better off if you took your own life, talk to someone. Organisations like the Samaritans have advisers at hand (call 116 123, calls are free and lines are open 24 hours) who are trained to understand your mental state – and if you are contemplating suicide you are mentally unwell, which means that you can get better. If you need support right now, and don’t want to go to your local A&E Department you can contact your GP for an emergency appointment (or the out of hours team) or call NHS 111.
The MIND website https://www.mind.org.uk/ has a lot of information on where to get help, including how to support someone else with suicidal feelings.
Does the government recognise people who are mentally unwell? Nearly fifty years after suicide was de-criminalised, the Equality Act 2010 made it illegal to discriminate against a number of groups – including disabled people. A sixty-page document published by the Office for Disability Issues provides comprehensive advice on how to determine if someone is disabled under the Equality Act. The Act defines a disabled person as follows.
“A person has a disability for the purposes of the Act if he or she has a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”
HIV infection, cancer and multiple sclerosis are conditions specifically mentioned as being disabilities under the Act. Addiction to, or dependency on, alcohol, nicotine, or any other substances (other than those medically prescribed) seasonal allergic conditions like hay fever and tendencies to set fires, steal or physically or sexually abuse other people, exhibitionism and voyeurism are not valid impairments under the Act.
The recognition of mental health in terms of discrimination would therefore seem to be a little confused. For example, while a person who felt compelled to steal or set fires is presumably mentally unwell not treating him or her appears not to be discrimination under the Act.
And what about benefits? Eligibility for benefits like Personal Independence Payment are measured according to whether people “require assistance” with everyday tasks which is much more difficult to define especially when the disability involves mental illness.
If you or someone you know feels suicidal, contact the people and organisations referred to above, don’t put it off you could help save your own or their lives.
Citizens Advice Waverley can almost certainly help.
For free, independent, confidential advice call:
0344 848 7969
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