DWP PIP assessors assessing those with mental illness MUST be qualified in mental health.

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There are currently people with mental illness that have taken their own lives due to the stress of PIP applications, decisions and appeals. Fact. 

DWP assessors are not properly trained in mental health and so therefore not able to carry out fair assessments for those with mental illness that need to be carried out in a different manner that those with physical disabilities. 

I am calling for only those trained specifically within mental health to carry out DWP PIP assessments for those with mental illness.

In my opinion, the who system needs a reform. I think medical evidence should be enough as it is provided by those specialists who treat and actually see the applicant on an ongoing basis and have knowledge of their specific illness and needs much more than any assessor ever would. However, i am aware that the likelihood of this due to it being an ongoing topic of debate is small and so at the VERY least, if this system is to remain as much as I believe it doesn't work as a whole then mental health claimants MUST be seen by assessors with mental health qualifications. If this cannot happen then in my opinion the whole assessment process needs to to looked at.

After the monumental stress of my own dealings with PIP I did some research and it wasn't difficult to find numerous stories, social media posts and even youtube videos from people with mental illnesses in distress at the PIP procedure. 

I was awarded PIP in 2015 after months and months of stress (and a hospital admission as the stress became to much in the already fragile state) and them losing my original assessment and trying to tell me I needed to go for a second assessment for my own good ( It was later explained by someone from the DWP that this was not true, it was in fact because they had lost my assessment after moving buildings) I was awarded the enhanced care rate for my bipolar disorder until NOV 2018. Eight months early they reassessed me and took away my benefit. Nothing had changed except two further hospital admissions for severe, suicidal depression following manic episodes with psychosis. 

Even though I got a lawyer and was told I could win the tribunal I had to drop the hearing due to the utter stress and negative impact on my health....The health that they are supposed to support. I now have less personal independence and left without the money that they themselves awarded me. 

That is a very shortened version of my story as I don't wish to make that the issue of this petition. I am just one of so many. 

The important point, that could at least start to make a difference if changed is that PIP assessors are not specifically mental health trained.

PIP (Personal independence payment) is intended to help those with either personal care or mobility needs. There is one universal application for both mental and physical health conditions which I find difficult to understand to begin with. 

The forms are very long, very specific and very detailed. They require supporting evidence and then applicants attend a face to face assessment with a DWP assessor. 

The DWP advise that their assessors are "Medically Trained"

DWP assessors are:

- Paramedics

- Nurses

- Physiotherapists

- Occupational Therapists

They currently have a salary of mostly between £30,000 and £40,000 per annum.

After the assessment the information from the assessor goes to the "decision makers who are trained to interpret legislation and to apply it to evidence in an unbiased manner. They do not receive any medical training. They greatly respond to the information provided by the assessor. 

Therefore the assessors role is a vital part in the application process to see that people are getting the help and support that they need but this system is failing people that need it the most. Those that are most vulnerable and already being put through what is an extremely stressful process, particularly if you already have a chronic mental illness. It seems that not just for myself but for so many applicants the whole process has a negative effect on those with mental health problems and is actually bringing about episodes in those with mental illness. 

The very first starting point as I see it is to, at the very least, make sure that the assessors have mental health qualifications. 

Paramedics will have limited training in emergency situations, not relating to those with chronic mental illness and what the effect on day to day life can be and how people can present. 

Nurses, depending in which area they are trained will have limited mental health training (unless specifically a mental health nurse) those trained in children's, general adult or learning disabilities as their speciality will only have limited mental health training.

Physiotherapists are not trained in mental health.

Occupational Therapists jobs are varied and so while they may have dealings with with people with mental health issues it is not guaranteed that this is a specialist area that they work within. 

So, the only likelihood that someone presenting at the DWP offices is going to have of seeing someone that may really understand their illness and therefore its implications are if they by chance and complete luck they get a mental health nurse or an occupational therapist that has a role specifically working with those with mental health. The chances of both slim and left to fate. 

A GP for example refers to a psychiatrist / mental health team for patients to be assessed for mental illnesses. While they have a general varied knowledge of general health and hold a very important role in people's care they do not have sufficient specialist training in mental health to be able to carry out a full and proper assessment to diagnose mental illness. They do not have specialist training to be able to assess and diagnose according the DSM criteria and go on to treat that persons needs effectively, fairly and within a standard that a psychiatrist and mental health team would be able to. The GP will liaise with the team and be a part of the care of course, but the assessment of needs has to come from the specialists who understand how to assess that patient in the correct manner.

The same procedure should stand for DWP PIP assessments. You cannot expect a fair assessment by someone without the correct training and qualifications to be able to conduct and assess someone with mental illness and their needs.

It is vital that the right person assesses someone with a mental illness for so many reasons. Not just the obvious reason of knowledge which would be a great starting point but mental illnesses are so complex. They affect people differently, people present differently. 

For example, an assessor could see one person with chronic depression and they seem to be well groomed, able to hold a conversation but they say at times they are suicidal. To the untrained eye this would be difficult to see compared to the first person that came in who looked unkempt and couldn't look them in the eye while telling them the same thing. A trained eye however may be able to see past this stigma and snap judgement and see that it is so much more complex than that. In fact both people could get to the same level of depression, both affected by their illness for the same period of time over a 12 month period. 

My PIP was stopped with some reasons being I was "Well groomed, maintained eye contact, went to a mainstream school and passed all of my GCSE's" (I am now 32) They are just some of of the stigmatised reasons that people are having their benefit taken away. I was even asked when I said that I had been suicidal "What stopped me from doing it?" ........ Something that probably would never have been asked to me by a trained mental health professional in that situation. 

People with mental illness may approach the assessment in different ways. Guarded, anxious, put on a front, eager to please, try not to say the wrong thing, scared of being judged. It is SO important to have the right person asking very personal questions to those with mental illness. To know that person is trained within mental health for the applicant to actually feel comfortable enough to open up to what are very probing questions.

It is difficult enough without the retaliation of very misinformed comments by people that just are not trained well enough in this field to be able to conduct fair assessments with the knowledge of how to approach the assessment correctly and get the questions across in a certain manner to ensure that people with mental illness are getting the help that they need without being judged and in many cases highly stigmatised. 

Using reasons such as "well groomed" , "Passed Gcse's" , " Went to a mainstream school" , " Can follow a TV drama storyline" are offensive, stigmatising and not only that, undoes the very important work of many mental health charities that campaign about mental health stigma. 

It only takes the tragic suicides of Kate Spade amongst countless others to see that this is not how people with chronic mental illness always portray, It most certainly cannot be judged in a one hour meeting from 365 days of the days of the year with someone with little or no specific mental health training, who because of this approaches the assessment in the incorrect manner meaning that that necessary information is not obtained.

All of the occupations listed that are current DWP assessors will have more of a broad general physical health knowledge and how that impacts someones day to day life than they will that of mental health conditions. 

A high proportion of claimants that score 0 points on their application and 0 points at mandatory consideration go on to win if they go ahead to appeal at a face to face tribunal hearing. However that is just too much and too stressful for many, including myself to deal with - So how many people are left without the PIP benefit that they deserve because they have been wrongly assessed by untrained staff? 

Rather that having so many appeals, and so many going on to win anyway, causing undue stress and anxiety with an impact on their already vulnerable mind would it not make sense to try and lessen the stress, duration and lack of income that people are getting by just making sure that people with relevant training do the assessments to begin with? 

By having trained ( not just a weeks training but people that have worked within the mental heath field) mental health assessors it would make claimants more at ease, the assessors would know how to approach the assessment in a better way and how to put forward the questions to get the best response from claimants, therefore making sure that the assessments are completed in the best possible way, with more information extracted. In turn this means that the decision maker, who is not medically trained would have a much more knowledgable assessment to base their decision on, hopefully less need for as many to appeal and go to tribunal and much less stigmatisation going on with the assessment and following correspondence and hopefully above all reduce the amount of negative impact this is having on people's already vulnerable mental health and maybe prevent another life from being taken.