Those that know me or follow me on Twitter will be aware that I ran my first Marathon in April this year raising almost £500 for the mental health peer support group I founded despite managing invisible long term conditions of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Schizoaffective Disorder (A mix of Schizophrenia and Bipolar).
I’m proud of what I have accomplished and most would consider it exceptional for my condition – I have for the most part began experiencing a feeling of ‘Impostor Syndrome’. Whether it’s true or not I feel that most people view my condition as less serious having pulled of a feat that most believe is beyond them. This view is bolstered from the comments on a recent article about me that got many ‘Likes’ below:
Although I don’t believe it’s helpful to make comparisons, I do wonder if I would have received those comments if I had completed the Marathon as part of the wheelchair event of the race. There still is a stigma in society that those of us with autism and/or mental illness are somehow less deserving of sickness and disability benefits than those with physical conditions. In any case I was still fortunate to be awarded Personal Independence Payments (PIP) by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) after the Marathon despite over 6,500 people signing a petition for the PIP assessment to be reformed to better account for people with conditions like mine – as many do not fair as well like me.
The fact of the matter is the DWP and the NHS are my only safety net. Although both organisations are arms of the government, it’s down to me to work with both to get the best outcome for me and my health in the long term. It’s very easy to fall through the cracks and walk through a revolving door between both organisations – loss of benefits can lead to a relapse in my health saving the DWP a few hundred a month but costing the NHS thousands in hospitalisations and interventions. My health can be the collateral damage of these two big organisations preferring to avoid me as a item on their increasingly stretched budgets.
The job market doesn’t look too positive either. I’m aware that only 44% of the population with a Long Term Mental Health Condition (LTMHC) are in employment compared to 80% of the population as a whole. Additionally those with a LTMHC lose their jobs at double the rate of those without which equates to 300,000 people a year . Also just 16% of autistic adults are in full time work . A reported poll of 500 employed adults that make, or directly influence hiring decisions in a company found that 68% of people able to hire staff would worry that someone with a severe mental illness wouldn’t fit in with the team, 83% would worry that someone with severe mental illness wouldn’t be able to cope with the demands of the job and 74% would worry that someone with severe mental illness would require lots of time off .
When we live in a climate of almost half of disabled people fear being stripped of their benefits for being ‘Too Active’ . I know I’m pushing my luck by running but I see I have very little choice. Although Marathons are painful for me, I know their making me stronger and resilient to pain thanks to neuroplasticity and the simultaneous practise of mindfulness meditation. I’ve set the goal of a accomplishing a 100KM Ultra Marathon in a year and the completion of a part time Masters degree in Mental Health within 3 years. Though attempting such tasks is fraught with risk, I hope from accomplishing the ‘extraordinary’ that a future employer will finally take notice and see potential in me to make the reasonable adjustments I require so I too can thrive as well as anybody else can in the UK.
 Thriving at Work The Stevenson / Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employers (October 2017)
 Government must tackle the autism employment gap (27 October 2016)
 Metro: New research reveals people with mental illness are facing a ‘locked door’ when it comes to getting a job (July 2017)
 HuffPost: Almost Half Of Disabled People Fear Being Stripped Of Benefits For Being ‘Too Active’ (October 2018)