MY SISTER HAD BEEN VERY ILL for some years with quite horrendous mental health problems, including extreme anxiety. And I don’t mean the sort of anxiety that somebody like you or I might have sometimes. I mean a completely different league of anxiety – including times when she was actually paralysed. She literally could not move and had to stay in bed, sometimes for four days at a time.
She dreaded the PIP form coming: she knew it was going to be really hard for her, because it’s a long form with a lot of detail. And she knew if she didn’t get it right, if she said the wrong thing or didn’t phrase it properly, it would get automatically turned down. This didn’t just stress her a little bit – it really sent her downhill.
The form came to around 50 pages – a form to apply for a benefit she was already entitled to and already getting. And her condition had only got worse since her previous application in 2014. The PIP form became the single thing for her, the thing that stopped her from being able to do or think about anything else. She wrote in her diary: “In terms of life and health it’s been very up and down. I’ve been trying to do my PIP renewal with a lot of help from Helen and I found it incredibly difficult. I even tried to throw myself under a train on 11th of this month following four consecutive days of shutdown [when she was literally paralysed]. Luckily I was saved seconds before the train arrived by a stationmaster. Perhaps somebody is looking after me after all because I was going to jump…”
But she continued to really worry and fret over the form. She was self-harming. She poured a kettle of boiling water over her arms, she would heat metal rods and burn her arms. She couldn’t look after herself. She couldn’t shop. She couldn’t eat. And even when the form was sent off, she didn’t get any better. She continued to worry about it – she was so convinced she’d be denied.
She phoned the Department of Work and Pensions to tell them that there were a lot of letters in support of her application which would be following. Sadly for her, she got someone who insisted that she gave him the exact date they would receive the letters. And she said: “I can’t give you an exact date, it’s with my doctor. But she’s doing them and she’s told me she’s doing them.” But he said: “That’s no good, you’ve got to give me a date.”
And that’s the sort of conversation – the blank wall – you get, from people who don’t seem to have any understanding of how doctors work, of how nurses work, or of how ill people are.
The form continued to haunt her and she spent all her time with her psychotherapist worrying about it. She had a psychiatric nurse, too, but she hadn’t seen her for around six months. I don’t blame the nurse for that. Our psychiatric nurses are completely overwhelmed. Nobody could cope with the amount of work they have to do.
Diane had already proved she couldn’t work. Why did she need to fill a form out? And why a form that’s so difficult? It feels like it’s there to make sure you don’t get anything – like you’re doing something very wrong, that you’re after something for nothing.
She took an overdose on the Wednesday before she died – that didn’t work. On the Friday she took herself off to Margate station and threw herself under a train. And though she was airlifted to Kings College Hospital she died of her terrible injuries.
I blame the state for my sister’s death, because it does not fund mental health properly. It has a system that puts barriers in the way of the most vulnerable people. It doesn’t show care, it doesn’t show compassion. It’s barbaric.
It has no humanity.
- This article is based on a transcript of a video interview carried out by the Thanet Watch online magazine.