Mental illness driving people out of the workforce
A big proportion of people claiming benefits have mental problems, writes Nicola Brennan-Tupara.
Mental illness is driving more and more Waikato people to leave work and go on the benefit, recent figures show.
Figures for the end of June show 43 per cent of the 4642 Waikato people on the sickness benefit were on it because of a psychological or psychiatric condition.
Just under 30 per cent of the 7171 people on the invalids benefit also list such conditions as a reason they couldn't work.
That's a 5 per cent, and 4 per cent, increase, respectively, since June 2007 and dwarfs all other reasons for being on those benefits.
A single person can get up to $204.96 a week on the sickness benefit, or $256.19 for the invalids benefit. A sole parent gets $336.55.
In total, 26,000 Waikato people were receiving some form of benefit.
Work and Income regional disability adviser Sue Bristow said the increase was most likely due to a better understanding and acceptance of mental illness in the community.
She said mental illness, for some people, was just as debilitating as a physical injury.
While she said many people with mental health conditions succeeded in a work environment, for some it was a hinderance.
"It's like any incapacity, it does make it more difficult and can establish barriers to employment."
Ms Bristow did not think it was easier to get a sickness benefit due to a mental illness, than a physical condition.
Like all of the other conditions, a person claiming a benefit for a psychological disorder had to have a medical certificate from their GP, or another registered medical practitioner.
She said a client had to fill certain criteria before that medical certificate would be given and would then be reassessed after four weeks; then eight and 13 weeks.
After one year they had to undergo an extensive assessment by Work and Income themselves.
In the Waikato, 48 per cent stayed on the sickness benefit for less than a year.
She said the figures showed mental illness was definitely affecting a lot of people - from depression right up to psychotic disorders.
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judy Clements said several barriers had pushed up the numbers of those on the benefit.
One was a person's own fear of returning to work, the other some employers' wariness to hire people with mental health issues.
"Those are barriers and of course unemployment levels are higher than they were, so that pushes those figures up as well."
The foundation was working with both sides to reduce the barriers and get people back in to work.
"The majority of people with mental health issues want to work."
She said working also aided their recovery.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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