George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid-Norfolk, has recently dismissed the suffering of millions in an interview with BBC 5 Live. As a policy advisor to Theresa May he is reported to have responded to questions regarding the changes to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) with:
“We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who need it,” explaining that these people who didn’t need it were “people who are taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety”.
As much as I find these comments offensive and of poor judgement, I believe that they are symptomatic of an underlying confusion. Within the social and health services there is, what I percieve to be, a flawed system of separating mental health from physical health. This binary view of well-being fails to recognise and effectively deal with the overlap of the two, as well as fuelling the view that mental illness does not cause disability to the same extent as physical illness.
Overlap of worsening mental health and deterioration of physical health is well documented. Conditions such as psoriasis, migraine and even asthma can be exacerbated by stress, anxiety or depression. It is now thought that Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a long-term condition of the digestive system, may be caused by psychological distress. The NHS website says:
“There is also some evidence to suggest that psychological factors play an important role in IBS.
“However, this does not mean that IBS is “all in the mind”, because symptoms are very real. Intense emotional states such as stress and anxiety can trigger chemical changes that interfere with the normal workings of the digestive system.” Whole Article
If increasing studies found a causative link between ‘intense emotional states’ and IBS, it would be interesting to see if IBS would continue to regarded in the same way. I only say this as I wonder what exactly differentiates a mental health diagnosis from a physical one. Because the physical suffering would be caused by a psychological state, would it then become a mental health condition?
I am interested in this way of viewing mental and physical health as I want to try to understand the motivation for separating the two. Maybe if we regarded panic attacks as physical symptoms such as shaking, nausea, breathlessness, caused by an emotional state, then it would be easier to comprehend the disability caused by them. Admittedly not all people with mental health problems experience physical symptoms, but if we could challenge the divide between the two and accept the critical interrelations between them, we would be able to more effectively treat ill health and reduce the stigma of mental illness.
Because so little is known about the causes of psychological illness, it appears fool-hardy of institutions to separate them. The disability caused by a condition should be regarded by its severity rather than whether it falls under a psychiatric label. Personal Independence Payments as well as health services should not just regard mental health and physical health with the same importance, but without the segregation of our current binary system.