Category Archives: WINZ

How society treats mental health patients

As a starting point, it would be wise to stop telling people to seek help and support that you know isn’t there. Austerity has gutted our communities of organisations that can make life liveable with mental health issues. Admit that it is not mental ill health that plunges people into crisis, it is the lack of support, protection and assistance that does that.

Mental health treatment is underfunded, so society needs to start paying for it. If people have to leave work because they are in distress do not punish them by forcing them into poverty and then make them beg for the tiniest crumbs of financial support in the form of benefits.

We need support. Real support. Not just nice sentiments, not just kind words. Real, actual support.

Support means services. Services that we can access. I am struggling to see my psychiatrist because the Taylor Centre only does psychiatric appointments between 0930 and 1530, Monday to Friday. I work full time. I can’t make it to these times. I’ve been lucky at my current job because they give me time off to go. But I am going to have to start a new job soon, and I can’t rely on that being the case. My private psychiatrist will see me out of hours – at $200 a pop. Once every two to four weeks, that adds up quickly. I am not well paid.

Support means money. It means that when the shit hits the fan, we don’t get pushed into penury. I spent three weeks in a psych unit this year, and a further three weeks off work afterwards. My benefit was $2 less per week than my rent. Without the kindness of friends and strangers, I would have lost my home. That is simply not good enough.

It’s not my fucking fault that my brain breaks. I don’t choose this life. I don’t choose brokenness; I don’t choose my reality being so very fragile. I don’t choose to be suicidal, and I don’t choose to be unwell. I don’t appreciate being treated like I’m not worth supporting. I don’t deserve to lose everything, over and over, because I’m a psych patient. I don’t want to have to rely on a few good people over and over until they give up on me.

We, as a whole society, need to do better. We need to get our shit together and treat people who are unwell and not ‘contributing’ as fucking people, not burdens. We need to give them their rights as people, to good and fulfilling lives, not to struggle and scrabble. We need to give them the keys to wellness by supporting them, caring for them, being kind but also being practical.

Three weeks from now, I hand my work keys back, and I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t want to have to fear that my disclosure of mental illness might count me out of a new job, or that I might be discriminated against because I’m not your average neurotypical person. I’m even more scared of needing a benefit, because the pressure and the work obligations are so hard, and because they won’t pay me enough to live.

Make the changes. Make our society a place that mentally ill people are supported, valued, cared for, loved, treated with kindness . . . accepted.

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The joys of dealing with WINZ

A heart-wrenching story came out today of one woman’s latest clash with the denizens of the WINZ office. A sufferer of a condition that causes her much pain, coupled with anxiety, makes going into the WINZ office very difficult. It’s not good for her to need to attend the office too often, as her medical forms state clearly.

WINZ showed their usual remarkable competence by losing her paperwork at a critical time – only a week or two before they were going to cut her benefit for not putting in enough paperwork. The usual rigmarole that they put their clients through on a regular basis (pro tip: if it’s common knowledge that you often lose paperwork, perhaps it’s time to look at your systems). She was subjected to the stress and cost of redoing all of her paperwork, a task that’s not ideal for a very unwell person.

Finally, she had the joy of meeting a WINZ functionary who appeared to know nothing about what might be going on and recommended contacting her case manager – an activity that she had been engaged in trying for the best part of a week.

This is unacceptable.

WINZ is dealing with some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Those in poverty, those taking care of kids on their own, those who are too ill to work. Their job is to make sure these people are not having to turn to crime or begging to survive, or quietly starving. I know they really don’t want anyone getting a benefit, but that’s not realistic. Making it difficult to get a benefit, especially one that is as sorely needed as a sickness benefit, is despicable.

WINZ should have better document logging and handling. Losing stuff is so unprofessional that they should hang their heads in shame. Maybe if it happened once or twice, it would be understandable. Once or twice per person? That’s ridiculous. That’s a critical failure in processes.

WINZ need to critically assess what their staff are doing. They simply do not treat people like people. There are some lovely case managers, but the culture of those offices is one of humiliation and degradation. Their goal is not to support people into a job, it’s to shame them into taking whatever is available, no matter how unsuitable it is. Or to shame them just for being people who are down on their luck. Sir Bob Jones would be proud.

Classifying sick people as ‘Jobseekers’ is ridiculous. Many have jobs that they cannot do because they are too ill. They’re not being lazy. They’re sick, damn it! They don’t need to be lumped with those who are genuinely looking for work (or not, depending on the person). There’s a reason that sick people (and sole parents, but there’s a rant for another day) were in a separate category from the unemployed. Their needs are different. And they don’t need the pressure of being told to get ‘work ready’ while they’re doing their best to recover.

WINZ is incompetent, inefficient, and humiliating to their ‘clients’. Those in poverty deserve respect, just like their wealthy countrymen. They’re people, and should be treated as such. They also deserve to be treated professionally, with all the efficiency and competency that involves.

What we have now is unacceptable.

A round of applause

WINZ again. My favourite people in the whole wide world. This time, it’s a practice that they have had for at least four years, possibly longer. The over-the-top celebration following a client (client? Really? It’s not like you can take your business elsewhere if you’re not happy with the service) getting a job.

When a WINZ client gets a job, they often need to go into WINZ – to get a grant to get work clothes, or to wrap up their benefit (doing this over the phone is a dangerous path to take). So they’re there telling their case manager that they’ve got a job, and the case manager is all happy and supportive and it feels really good. Any business remaining is wrapped up as quickly as possible – getting rid of a client is done with far more alacrity than helping them in their time of need – and the client goes to leave. All is well in their world.

All of a sudden, their case manager gets out an old school bell or a hooter of some description. Sounding this gets all the case managers on their feet to applaud the client’s achievement.

What. How embarrassing can you get? Remember at school, when you’d won some award and you had to stand up in assembly, and it was the most embarrassing thing in your week? Imagine this, but in a place that had systematically shamed you for as long as you had been dealing with them. Who made you feel worthless and crappy for daring to need their help. And imagine it in the middle of a room of strangers that you know are suffering the way you once were and who see your success as an almost impossible dream at times. In a way, it’s a tool for shaming them some more – look, that dude managed to get a job, why don’t you get off your arse and do the same?

The displays are patronising – the last time you got a round of fake applause like that, it was in school, and we’re not schoolkids any more. An adult doesn’t need false adulation, particularly not from the ones that have shamed them for so long. It’s condescending – yay you got a job! Well done you! Collect your certificate and mini chocolate bar at the door! (and don’t come back through it, or we’ll treat you just as poorly as we did before)

Walking through that office to a round of applause from a bunch of people that don’t actually give a shit about your achievement is often done head-down and blushing. It’s not a celebration for the jobseeker. It’s a professional celebration of another one off the books.