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U.K. Woman's Suicide Linked to Her Disability Benefits Being Cut

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I recently read an article from across the pond over in the U.K., regarding Philippa Day, a 27-year-old mother who had been living with a mental illness. Following a lengthy investigation of her death in 2019, it was determined that the overdose that led to her death was linked directly to her disability benefits being cut. Following her reduction in assistance, she went through a tumultuous few months, both fighting to get them reinstated and taking out loans that put her further and further in debt, which ultimately led to her overdose. The coroner assigned to her case even noted that her mental health problems were likely “exacerbated” by the situation with her benefits.

Now, her family is speaking out, urging the government to fix “systemic” problems in the benefits system, according to The Guardian.

I honestly wish I could say her story surprised me, but sadly it is all too familiar. 

As someone who has been struggling for years to navigate the system in order to receive benefits for my own disabilities, I know how daunting the system can be. I have been on and off disability assistance for a few years now. It has honestly been a fight every step of the way and my fight is still far from over.

There have been big issues and small, but all have taken a great toll on my overall mental health. It has often been one battle after another, one issue after another, leaving me mentally and emotionally drained and dreading any time I need to establish contact again. Even though my disability has been identified as partially genetic in origin and deemed permanent by my doctors, every few months my doctors must continue to verify that my permanent disability is still ongoing in order to justify my need for assistance. It had gotten so bad at one point where I could not even enter the one building without having a full blown anxiety attack. But the worst, perhaps, was the period of time where I lived for over half a year with the steady fear of homelessness looming over my head.

Despite having an open and active case with a shelter allowance approved, I went through over half a year where the county I had lived in did not supply my shelter funds over an error in their filing that they initially refused to correct, then refused to back track. Luckily I was able to borrow rent money from someone to keep from losing my home until the error was eventually corrected and current rent was covered. However, over two years later, I am still fighting, with the help of legal aid, for the funds for prior rent that were approved for me to be released so I can reimburse the person who paid my rent so I didn’t end up homeless.

I have lived through the waiting periods between applications and assistance becoming active, frantically calling around to food pantries to try and figure out how to feed my family, put off seeing a doctor while waiting for coverage to begin because, though I could go to the emergency room to get a diagnosis regardless of coverage, no specialist would see me to address the problem until after insurance has kicked in. I have sat up many a night, desperately searching for a way to gnaw through the red tape as the clock kept ticking down in the race between finding a way to get the rent covered and being out on the street. The toll it takes on your mental health to live every day in fear of how you will be able to survive to see tomorrow is excruciating and overwhelming. There were admittedly many times when I too, like Philippa Day, contemplated suicide out of sheer exhaustion and hopelessness.

There is little in the way of advocacy or guidance for many struggling to apply for and receive benefits. The majority of those navigating the system come into it unaware of what hoops to jump through in order to get help, facing a system that is often designed to put up a fight in order to keep the rolls small. When you desperately need help in order to survive, and receiving any assistance feels like an uphill battle, it quickly makes a bad situation worse.

There are some who nonchalantly would say that the solution is simple — get a job.  There are many years where I did work. But there are also times when my disability has made it impossible to do so. Eventually my deteriorating condition impeded my functionality and reliability. During those times, receiving assistance is crucial to survival. And having to continuously battle to receive assistance, continuously fighting to have your basic needs met so that you don’t end up starving or out on the street, or so you can have serious medical problems addressed and treated, can take a serious toll on your mental health.

Having access to comprehensive medical coverage is mental health care. 

Having regular access to nutritious food is mental health care. 

Having access to reliable, safe, affordable housing is mental health care.

Mental health care encompasses much more than making sure a person has an antidepressant or a therapist to talk to during rough periods. When someone is facing eviction, food scarcity, health problems or other crises, their mental health is greatly exacerbated.  In order to fully and properly treat mental illness, you must address other aspects of a person’s life that are detrimental to their safety and overall wellbeing.

When everything feels like a battle…

When you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from or how long you will have a roof over your head…

When you’re in constant pain and don’t have the coverage to have it addressed…

The world feels hopeless. It becomes a constant struggle to keep fighting, to not give up. Sadly, in some cases as with Philippa Day, the battle became too much to endure. Though not everyone who is fighting for assistance and struggling for survival dies by suicide, even one death is needless and too many. Making sure those who need assistance don’t fall between the cracks can be a matter of life and death and should always be prioritized as such.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If we want to make a genuine difference in the lives of those with a mental illness disability, it starts with making sure that their basic needs are met. After all, a person who is not spending every waking moment panicked over their basic survival can devote more of their time and energy into addressing trauma and improving their overall mental health.

Getty image via marchmeena29

Originally published: February 2, 2021
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