My Friend Lisa


Let me tell you a few things about my friend Lisa. She suffers from a mental illness known as bipolar affective disorder. She has spent about a year of her life in hospital. She does not complain, she does not make a fuss and, as far as I am aware, she poses no danger to anyone except herself. And she tries. God damn it – she tries. She has a part time job (she teaches at a local FE college), she has a certificate of higher education. She has a social life and a multitude of friends: a testament to her generosity of spirit but she often wakes up in the morning disappointed that she is still here.

It would be so easy for Lisa to ‘play dead’, to curl up into a ball, to cut off all connection to the world. But she doesn’t do this. She throws herself headlong into living. She has all the qualities that should be nurtured in a human being. One would imagine that she would be rewarded for her efforts. One would imagine that she would be rewarded for such behaviour. However, far from being rewarded, she is penalised. She has discovered that the single source of help she receives from the state has been withdrawn. She has been told that from now on she is not entitled to the assistance of a psychiatric nurse because she appears to be ‘doing so well’. She replied to this news with the words: ‘Has it ever occurred to you that one of the reasons I am doing so well is regular contact with the CPN?’ She pleaded with the team that manages her care to reinstate her CPN but to no avail. She asked if the action taken by her psychiatric team was a result of the drastic cuts to the health budget in this area. They admitted that this was part of the reason behind their decision. Whenever there are cuts it always seems to be the people who make the effort who are affected the most.

Rightly or wrongly, I cannot help contrasting Lisa’s case with Andy’s. He is abusive, regularly indulges in criminal activity yet he has a string of helpers traipsing in and out of his flat: social workers, CPNs, occupational therapists, you name it, he has it. Message received and understood: those who shout the loudest receive the most whereas those who make any kind of effort to engage with the world beyond the mental illness ghetto are penalised. Those who harm others are valued more than those who pose a threat only to themselves. Conclusion: the only way to receive help is to give up, curl into a ball and play dead. Fine in the short term but has anybody stopped to consider the long term consequences of this policy? Somehow I doubt it.

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