Ebony blogs about why she is supporting Mind’s campaign to improve the welfare system.
Mental health is a cause I love, and I have been a Mind supporter for several years. In the past I supported through fundraising, but I recently decided to sign up to be a Community Activist to start campaigning for change. I run a small business that helps women and families with both their mental and financial health. I set this up after my own personal struggle with mental health and debt.
My personal experience with mental health was crippling anxiety. For a long time I was unaware it was anxiety I was experiencing even though I have a background working in mental health myself. I managed to go to work as I functioned better in a routine. Any small unexpected change at work or home would cause my heart and mind to race uncontrollably. My thoughts were always focused on the worst case scenario. It affected my decision making a lot, including small decisions like what to buy in the supermarket.
When I had my daughter and I went on statutory maternity leave I had my first experience of the benefits system, and living on a small amount every two weeks. As well as the existing mental health, I had the extra worry of how I was going to manage financially. It meant I fell behind on certain bills and had to prioritise so I could have enough for the basics. That nine months has given me a real insight into how people who have been on benefits for a long time must feel. The idea that still in 2020 this small amount of money should be enough to support you alone is a real shame.
Many families are now in receipt of universal credit which means that they receive all their income at one time and are expected to have the capacity and skills to pay all their bills and manage their finances. If covid-19 has taught us anything it is that a large proportion of the UK are living two to three pay checks away from financial hardship.
Anyone can suffer from mental health problems, whether they are in or out of work. This is why I decided to sign up to be a Community Activist, with a particular focus on the Mind campaign to ensure everyone with a mental health problem gets the financial support they need.
It's time we openly acknowledge the intricate relationship between mental and financial health
The benefits system should strive to promote independence and empower people with budgeting classes, saving schemes, debt support, empathetic staff and processes that take into account the mental health of the people they deal with. It's time we openly acknowledge the intricate relationship between mental and financial health. Only then will we be able to see the positive changes in society that the government is always talking about.
The benefits system has the power to transform people’s lives. With the right help, people with mental health problems could get the financial security they need to move forward with their lives and live more independently. But the system we have now fails to meet that promise, and in many cases can cause fear and distress, which makes people’s mental health worse. The benefits system needs to be led by the experiences of disabled people and those of us with mental health problems. Mind is calling for a more compassionate benefits system, which would end sanctions for disabled people and stop the cycle of repeated assessments.
I was given training by Mind on the campaign to improve benefits for people with mental health problems
As a Community Activist, I was given training by Mind on the campaign to improve the benefits system for people with mental health problems, as well as practical training on how to go about meeting with my MP. Normally these meetings might be in person, but at the moment due to the pandemic most MPs are meeting over video call or phone.
Before emailing my MP to ask for a meeting, I thought about the issues I wanted to discuss with him and I did some research on what he does in the local community. When I found out that he is interested in improving the local hospital I saw this as a good sign.
I was nervous at the thought of talking to my MP initially. I mean MPs go to the House of Commons! I was worried about getting tongue tied whilst talking. But to my surprise he was so down to earth – he made me feel really relaxed and expressed a real interest and concern for mental health and the local community. He also acknowledged how much the pandemic will have increased pre-existing mental health issues. He suggested we meet to discuss Mind's campaign to improve mental health and finances over a coffee soon!
My campaigning doesn’t stop here! I plan to take my MP up on his offer and see what suggestions he has to help raise awareness and support for mental health and the Mind benefits campaign. I also plan to do a 14-day journal challenge for my own mental health, and starting in November I will advertise for sponsors to take part in an activity that will boost local people’s mental, physical and financial health.
I am pleased to say I have developed healthy coping strategies to manage my anxiety, such as, exercise, conscious eating and drinking (this helps with the food budget as well as the mind), going to bed at 10pm and journal writing. If you are a woman or a family in need of financial support please seek help. You will not regret it - I didn't.
Becoming a community activist has given me the confidence to push for further change in the area I live in
Becoming a Community Activist has given me the confidence to push for further change in the area I live in, and the women I support in my business are extremely happy to know that Mind is highlighting the difficulties they face on a daily basis. If you are thinking of becoming a Community Activist, I say go for it! Mind is great at providing the information and support you need to start the conversation.
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Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.