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Friday, 23 January 2015

My Issues with IAPT (Part 2.)

I want people to quickly reiterate some points from my previous post about IAPT, as well as some new points, before I begin the real meat of this blog post:
  • These are my personal experiences, they could be isolated or they could be true for the whole of the scheme. Unfortunately, I don't know what the general consensus is but I would still urge you to bear the things I say in mind if you are considering ever using IAPT's services
  • My poor experiences have nothing to do with my advisor: they were wonderful, and I believe that IAPT's one on one service is generally sensitive and supportive. My problems have everything to do with the way the service is being run on a higher level, and the resources IAPT have available to them. If anything, this is advocating on their behalf, expressing that they need help in running a service that is more helpful to everyone in need.
  • IAPT's availability and the work it does varies from borough to borough - I have it on good authority that the Bromley service is very supportive, I personally know that Enfield are great one on one, but take a look at what other people in your area have said, and whether the service is indeed available in your area.
  • There are definitely horror stories, take those into account, as well as the praise.
  • IAPT and other NHS run mental health services will be receiving an increase in funding in the new financial year, this may help to alleviate some of my concerns. The details of that can be accessed via this link.
  • If you need immediate help and are in the UK, do not rely on IAPT alone. Please call an emergency line like
    • Lifeline: 0808 808 8000
    • The Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90
    • Or Childline if you are under 18: 0800 1111

Issues with IAPT: Six to Eight Weeks

Once I started my sessions, it was a once a week session I had for one hour in the mornings. The sessions themselves were varied, and were focused mainly on debunking really unhelpful personal beliefs about myself, chipping away at these detrimental standards I seem to hold myself to. It wasn't Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in the way I had imagined it would be, but it was an extremely helpful approach, that prompted me to become self-aware about my anxiety and to understand that not everything I believe to be true about myself, people, and the world around me, is true. I made some emotional breakthroughs, hit some mental walls that I had no idea were there, and all in all it was a positive experience.

At my first session my advisor explained the process: I would get six weeks of sessions, and on the sixth week the decision would be made as to whether I require more help. Six weeks seemed like such a long time that I thought this was fair enough. The sixth weeks came and went, and it wasn't until week 10 that my advisor and I had another conversation about endings because the time had gone so quickly for both of us. The sessions were very effective, but if someone is taking your worldview, flipping it on its head, and trying to make that your new worldview that is not something that can be done in a couple of months.

My advisor admitted he would have wanted more time to work with me, but that the 13th week would have to be the end of our sessions. He assured me that I could refer myself again if I felt that I needed to, but explained to me that sessions could not really go on much longer than mine had. The target, apparently, is around six to eight weeks.

six to eight weeks is absolutely no time at all.

 I'm giving myself time to see how I adjust to working on my anxiety on my own, as my advisor suggested I do, but I find myself relapsing into older, safer, damaging behaviour patterns. I get less sleep, I leave the house less, isolate myself more, and allow worries to pile up in my head rather than ask for help. I'm self-aware at the least, and that's something I can say has definitely stuck, but one of the most major sources of my anxiety is an inability to ask for help when I am struggling. With that in mind: I need help with this because I am struggling, and 13 weeks was not enough time to help me, let alone eight.

I can't help but think of the people who respond to therapy really well, who make progress and really seem to be on the mend, that have their sessions stopped after eight weeks because they seemed to be "all cured", but fall straight back to square one because they don't have the support they once had, and now have to start at the back of the queue again if they want more help.

I can't help but think about the people like myself who found themselves getting stuck often, and right at the moment when they manage to make a real discovery about who they are and how they can help themselves their sessions end and they are left without guidance on what to do next.

I can't help but think of the many, many people who feel as though having to refer themselves is a failure, who are afraid of being burned again, who used all of their courage to reach out the first time and are too afraid to do it all over again.

I don't claim to have a financial solution, because more often than not issues like this are based on money. A lack of money to train more staff, to fund long-term therapy, etc. I will say, however, that this should be a priority for IAPT in the new financial year with its increase in funding. In terms of treating mental illness, time is one of the most important factors because these issues are rarely "quick fixes", they often require long-term and tailored care to be treated properly. 'Parity of esteem' between mental and physical health was promised to us by the coalition government, but on the ground level that does not seem to be the case. Mental health services like IAPT are treated as completely separate from other medical services; I find it frustrating, for example that my GP was more ready to give me pills than refer me to a service like Mind, and never once mentioned IAPT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy without prompting from my boyfriend. Parity of esteem would mean that being referred to IAPT or other NHS mental health services would be on a level with being referred to a dermatologist, an allergist, or any other specialist that can help with a medical problem your GP cannot help with.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Jobcentres are setting us up to fail; in other news, the world is turning

I've recently read an article from May of last year, detailing the experiences of a “whistle-blower” who has worked for the Department of Work and Pensions here in the UK for twenty years. He met with Iain Duncan Smith to talk about the inner-workings of Jobcentres in the UK, in particular the “brutal and bullying” methods used by advisors and advocated by management to “[set] claimants up to fail”.

 He explains the ways they use sanctions frequently to stop people's Job Seeker's Allowance (hereafter: JSA) pay, and tricked customers into allowing them to do so. These sanctions can leave people for anything up to three years without any income.

 “We were constantly told 'agitate the customer' and that 'any engagement with the customer is an opportunity to sanction.”

 Tricks such as changing people's advisor appointments with little to no warning, and if you miss your appointment your claim is stopped, therefore you are removed from the list of claimants, and from the statistics. You see how this works now? Increasing the frequency of sanctions and stopped claims saves money and makes it appear as though unemployment statistics are going down.

 The people running the system have no faith in JSA claimants in the first place, as the whistle-blower revealed. Claimants are seen as “lazy” and “taking your money” by the managers and senior leaders of the Jobcentre. These are the people that are supposed to be helping us get jobs, the people running the system we are relying on to support us in as difficult a time as being unemployed is.

That's a fun little fact for those who weren't aware: it's not an enjoyable experience, being unemployed. You often more susceptible to mental health issues like depression and low-mood, and the money you receive often isn't enough to support you – it was difficult for me, even with the ability to live at home by the grace of my parents. To be on JSA and have the worries of bills and proper rent and possibly supporting a family? I couldn't imagine. Aside from money worries, the monotony, and the constant rejection from jobs you're only really applying for to fill the quota, actually being in the Jobcentre and speaking to your advisor is often a dehumanizing experience. My advisor gave me help with my CV, a list of websites, and a total of two jobs to apply for, and I consider myself intensely lucky. He wanted to be there about as much as I did, and honestly if I ever ended up back on JSA I'd rather him than the advisors sat around him. Advisors hoping their claimants did not show up and berating them when they were there, refusing meetings all together to people who were slightly late...I could go on. I have never felt more like a checkbox, a number, or a statistic in my life. Imagine the frustration of going to get help from someone who does not want you there.

There are all sorts of schemes that exist to help you that everyone knows about, but you just cannot access unless you know the right number to call and the right name to quote, and god knows how you would find that out. The Jobcentre has supposed schemes in which they will help you obtain interview clothing or pay for travel if you get a job for the first month you are working. Good luck finding anyone that has ever managed to use those schemes. I had to call my local Jobcentre, then my Advisor, who then gave me a number to which I had to sit on for hours before I could speak to someone to enquire about paid for travel, only to be told the scheme had conveniently ended recently. Great, so I had a job and no money to travel to it. Not to mention I signed off but was never given a P45 so I was being overtaxed for months and had no idea because, hey, this was my first real job and I had no idea how anything worked. No one whose job it was to help me felt the need to help me. No, it's all up to you to sort of figure it out. Good luck.

 Coming back to this information released by the whistle-blower, I discovered upon researching that this is not the first time people working within the system have come forward. There are a couple of twitter accounts I've found: @JcpAdwiser @JobcentreMole, both run by people working for the Jobcentre who strive to expose its inner workings, a man who went by the name of 'K' that worked for the Jobcentre did a story with the Guardian about the same thing. All of their stories are similar, which is ridiculous especially since the Guardian's story is from 2011.

 (they all date within the Coalition government which... Listen, I'm not telling you who to vote for in this General Election, but if this is the sort of thing that outrages you I would implore you to consider it strongly when deciding who to vote for.)

 The story from 2011 talks about advisors doing things like giving dyslexic claimants written applications to do, and then sanctioning those who find it too difficult to complete. Delightful.

I work in a public library, and we have a club specifically for helping people with searching for jobs and so we have a lot of people in the library either on JSA or attempting to claim. What I have noticed in abundance is that the Job Centre will force older people and people with limited English, who have huge difficulty with using computers, to do online applications. They aren't offered any basic IT help, or ever told about the places within the borough that do give help like libraries, Age UK, the Citizens Advice Bureau, ESOL classes, and other local education centres. These people have no choice but to struggle through, using the DWP's highly unintuitive Universal Jobmatch service, and I try to help those I can since I've been through the system myself but I can only do so much, and if the system changes again I am helpless. If they are unable to complete the often confusing applications, that could be used as grounds for a sanction or even for a stopped claim, because the claimant is “not trying hard enough” to find a job.

 There is a fascinating interview with the person that runs the @JobCentreMole which I will link with all of my sources down below, which reveals some fascinating things about Job Centre advisors not receiving end of year bonuses because they have not given out enough sanctions, and encouraging claimants that have been sanctioned to fill out forms to re-open their claim, which actually end up adding an extra two weeks to their sanction. It goes more into detail about the lengths to which the DWP are clearly prepared to go to help as few people as possible.

What I want to close with is what I find the most disheartening about this topic: we all knew this already. Anyone who has been on JSA or has family or friends that have know about these things. The confirmation is infuriating no doubt, but the point remains that these bullying tactics are clear to all of us. No one is surprised, no one has faith that the Job Centre, the DWP, or the government itself actually want to help its unemployed. We are all aware that we're statistics, and we just grumble and shrug and carry on, because what else can you do?

 None of us are surprised, and all of those who are familiar with the system have our horror stories. Whether it is giving you impossible tasks, making your sign-on centre frustratingly far from your actual home, random changing of sign-on dates or verbally antagonistic advisors, we can all account ways in which the Jobcentre will hinder you in your desire to actually find permanent employment.

 This isn't even going on to sort out the utter mess that will be Universal Credit when that comes into effect (just before the election). I still don't know who I am voting for in this coming election yet, but I will say I feel sorry for whomever will have to clean up the mess of Universal Credit and, hopefully, tackle these common problems with Jobcentres across the country. Even a total reform would potentially negatively affect the claims of people currently in the system. The terrain is treacherous, but for this or potentially the next government not to address these glaring issues with a system many people in this country are forced to rely on would be beyond negligent.


@JobCentreMole Interview

Guardian Whistleblower

Mirror Whistleblower (inital catalyst)

Article on "Targets" For Bullying Claimants out of ESA, with particular focus on those with Mental Health issues

@Jcpadwiser on twitter

@JobCentreMole on twitter

Some UK poverty statistics

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Open letter to the man that insisted upon my number on the train this morning

Listen to me you bold, charmless, no good motherfucker,

Men like you really feel as though pressure is the truest and most certain way to get a woman's name, her phone number, or even any sort of sexual female attention.

You will push and prod and shame and berate us in the hopes that you can force us into your bed because what we feel is unimportant, and what you want at that moment is all that matters.

I am sick of the way men who approach me feel like they can treat me.

Men who would not ever be bold enough to say these things to me if I were sat with my boyfriend, but insist that my having a boyfriend doesn't matter to them and they want my number anyway.

Well, it matters to me you tactless piece of shit, and it matters far more to me than you ever will. The fact that I am only safe from creeps like you when I am with a man, that the only way I can think to defend myself is by saying 'hey, hey there is a man that claims me for his own!! You can't have me ha hah ahaha haaa....'

But beyond that, even if I were single I would never ever give you my phone number or even the time of day because you feel like making me feel small, feel bad about myself, or feel bad for you is the way to appeal to me. Not only that, but you feel like I owe you attention anyway.

I think you are disgusting.

 Men like you approach me somewhat regularly and please do not think I am bragging because it is a horrible experience and I would wish it on absolutely no one. Enough women go through it though, and it makes me wonder how I could ever chastise a woman for thinking all men are the same.

Seriously, we as a society will talk poorly of women who generalize about the way men are, who comment on how all men are the same, and all those similar ideas about men. We tell her, 'well why don't you stop rejecting all the good guys out there and stop generalizing an entire sex?'

Well, consider what I am about to say to you:

If your experience of men expressing a sexual interest in you is a constant wave of shitheads who think that the correct way to talk to you is to make you feel small, stupid, rude, and like you owe them your body, and to top it off these are men that you have not chosen to speak to yourself and men that you are not even attracted to, that can have a long lasting effect on your self-esteem. Maybe, the only way to hold onto any love for yourself you may still have is to hope that men are just awful, hope upon hope that it's not all your fault and that this is just the way men express themselves.

"How dare you look attractive and not let me speak to you?" these men all say indirectly, "how dare you not find my insulting comments complimentary, how dare you not want to engage with me, how dare you not want to let me fucking violate you? You're rude, you're ugly, I never liked you anyway and no one ever will. How you feel doesn't matter, it's what I feel is important because you are nothing more than something for me to enjoy."

 Imagine internalizing all those things over and over again and trying to hold on to your self-esteem and your faith in men. Imagine being me, right now, with a boyfriend who tells me he loves me and that I'm the most beautiful woman he has ever met, and just not being able to believe a word he says no matter how desperately I try. Imagine feeling deep down like you're worth far, far less than anyone could ever think you're worth because you've had ugly, foul words stuffed down your throat by men who you did not even choose to encounter.

I am furious on behalf of myself, my mother, my cousins, my friends, my coworkers, and every woman that has ever had to be treated like an object by a man that she is worth far more than on any given day, and I am not the first to write about this but I hope to God I am the last. I am sick and tired of us being mistreated. I'm sick of young, terrified girls being pushed into corners of rooms that they never chose to step into, by men who do not know how to properly treat another human being, and having that mould the shape of their self-worth.

Now, you could try to say that I am overreacting, that being asked for your number is a compliment, or that a few men should not be the ruler by which you measure your self-worth.

Unfortunately, you scumbag, we do not choose the things that haunt us, or the things that shape who we are as a person. I think the reason I gravitated towards online dating when I was dating, is because I honestly associate being approached by a man with fear, pressure, and intimidation.

I've heard the (kind of bullshit but whatever) supposition that often women are not clear enough when they say 'no', that all the umming and erring can appear as though we are slowly being won over. So I've worked up the courage, because please understand that more often than not this is a frightening experience, to use a hard 'no' and draw a firm line in the sand. It has served only, especially in the case that prompted this rant, to spur these men on further. Countless questions (Why? What don't you like? What's the matter? Are you a lesbian?), pleading (Do you want me to beg? Please, I'll do anything! I HAVE to have your number! Please don't say no, you'll break my heart!), followed then by insults and questions on my character (You know, you're being extremely rude. You'll never find a husband that way. Well, you're ugly anyway. What a bitch.)

I don't enjoy that these gross interactions have had such a profound effect on me, but what I will say is that I think the fact that at this point in my life it makes me angry is a blessing. I'm lucky that I've stopped internalising the words and the awful situations, and I've started feeling a sense of injustice. I have been wronged, and I know that. The problem is it took a long time and a lot of feeling awful to get to that point.

You're an awful person, creep-from-the-train, and I'm aware of that, and I wish I didn't have to feel panicked and afraid in the face of other men like you before I understood that completely.

But thank you for flipping that switch in my brain you asshole! You've succeeded in doing the opposite of what you planned on doing: you've made me feel good about myself, and therefore thoroughly more disgusted by you.



Thursday, 1 January 2015

Having the best friends ever and the problems it may cause

I had a wonderful New Year's Eve this year. So, before I write anything introspective and thoughtful and mildly depressing I want to thank my closest group of friends for being who they are. We're all sort of flawed and dysfunctional and socially awkward in our own ways, and we have been through a lot of things. A lot of, by our own admission, pretty stupid things. However, we all seem to manage to come out of the other side being closer. The people I like to keep around me are the people I don't have to talk to regularly, but when we do talk it's easy and it falls into place as if there was no gap between conversations. The thing is that's not a lot of people.

For all intents and purposes I'm not that great of a friend. As an introvert, social interaction can be comfortable and fun and engaging, but whether it is or isn't it's always draining in some way. Even when talking over the internet, conversations tend to sap the energy out of me after a while. Because of this, I tend to do things like cut off conversations without saying goodbye, forget to reply to messages, feign being busy in order to avoid going out and 100 other things to just avoid people that, really, I love and cherish very much. I don't have the energy for epic conversations a lot of the time. The closer we are, the longer we can talk for, but my alone time is so immensely important to me. I would not be able to cope without it.

This year for NYE we went to our friend's house for the four Ds: Drinking, Dungeons & Dragons, and Deep conversations.

The conversation wasn't planned, but it usually happens when we all get together. We were talking for a long time about love, life, university, jobs, sex, the past, the present, old friends, new friends, stupid decisions...the list goes on and on. It only just struck me as I was thinking about what to write today, but although we were talking about new experiences and what had changed or was changing in our lives, and although most of us don't live in the same place anymore because of university, we're talking as if nothing has changed. We are so able to just pick up where we left off and treat each other the same. It's something I'm so lucky to have with close friends.

I think about us as a group a lot. I've known the boys since I was about fifteen, one of my female friends I've known since I was, maybe, thirteen, and the other female friend we met when we were all about eighteen or nineteen. Statistically, we should not all be friends anymore. Most people lose touch with almost everyone they were close to as a teenager. Our closeness is so effortless, however, that I can't really see us ever growing apart at this point (touch wood). The bad thing is I sort of don't know how to keep friends very well, haha. We're so relaxed, I find it difficult to put the normal amount of effort required into maintaining a friendship.

So I would just like to take a minute to formally apologise to the people I've been friends with and barely contacted, or have always waited for them to contact me first. It's never anything personal, and I do love you. I just have a very strong learned behaviour in terms of friendships and how they work, and it will take some work for me to get out of that habit. 

Not only that, but I have such a specific sense of humour now, and it's maybe 75% inside jokes and the rest are insults so part of the reason I can be so quiet is because I'm worried about being offensive.

It may be a surprise, but not everyone appreciates the friendliness of "oh my God you gross piece of shit. Get away from me" as a first greeting.