Provide Medical Exemption Certificates to sufferers of severe mental illness.

Provide Medical Exemption Certificates to sufferers of severe mental illness.

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At 16 years old, I was diagnosed with moderate depression. 5 years later, my diagnosis was re-evaluated and I was told that I suffered with bipolar disorder. Since my initial diagnosis at 16, I have relied on psychotropic medication as a means of managing my illness. My mental disorder is debilitating, and has negatively impacted every aspect of my life, from my education to my ability to work.

Since becoming an adult I have struggled to pay for my prescriptions, and have often halted my treatment due to my inability to afford the charge. This inability to access medication that is necessary for my daily functioning has led to my condition worsening, further impacting my capacity to work and earn a wage. It is an inescapable cycle of suffering.

Last year, whilst in a rare episode of “good” mental health, I applied to receive assistance with medical costs from the Low Income Scheme. This was fantastic, as I was able to access the treatment I needed without having to worry about whether or not I would be able to afford food after paying for my prescription. However, the Low Income Scheme requires reapplication every year. If you have applied for the scheme yourself, you know how long the application form takes to fill in. It’s not something that a person suffering with a severe mental disorder can necessarily do when the time comes – life gets in the way.

I believe that a certificate that allows access to medical care without having to worry about the cost of getting better would be incredibly beneficial for those suffering with severe mental illness. I know that my quality of life would be improved by such a scheme.

At present, Medical Exemption Certificates can be issued to those suffering with cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, and a variety of other conditions. However, there is currently no scheme in place to provide assistance to individuals that rely on medication to manage their severe mental disorders.

Severe mental disorders directly correlate with premature mortality, with on average a 10-25 years reduction in the life expectancy of patients with such illnesses. The use of psychotropic medication as a means of managing these illnesses, whilst not without controversy, is often an essential form of treatment for those diagnosed with a severe mental health condition.

It is well documented that those suffering with mental illness are at a disadvantage as compared with the general population due to unemployment, institutionalisation, isolation, and socioeconomic challenges. Some are even unable to leave their residence without the aid of another person. The social and economic consequences of severe mental disorders can lead to an increase in psychological stress and unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking and substance abuse, which in turn increase the risk of chronic illness. People with severe mental health disorders are also more susceptible to infectious disease such as HIV and hepatitis as a result of the risk-taking behaviour associated with their illness. Behaviours leading to poor self-care, such as smoking and lack of exercise often lead to chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease and diabetes.

For those who suffer with severe mental disorders, access to medication is a matter of life and death, and as highlighted above this is not just applicable to the prevention of self-harm and suicide. Mental illness is a serious issue, and the accessibility of its treatment should be a priority. This is especially important when considering the current waiting lists for alternative treatments such as counselling and therapies.

With the increasing awareness of invisible disabilities, it seems only fair that mental illness be treated with the same severity as other illnesses that decrease ones ability to function in society.

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