|Posted on January 27, 2012 at 12:20 AM|
Hello everyone! I’m back to updating the mental health blog after a break over Christmas and New year. This is part two in my navigating the mental health system series, all about financial help.
I often speak to people who are struggling with finances due to their illness, and having a chronic illness of any kind (mental health or otherwise) can make it hard financially. You are often limited in the kind of work you can do, you may need time off for doctors appointments,and you may need part time rather than full time work.
Unfortunately, getting any kind of financial assistance is a very stressful process, so here is your “how to” guide to make it easier to get access to financial support that you are entitled to.
The benefit from Centrelink that most people are familiar with is Newstart, the payment that covers you while you look for work. However, you may not be aware that Centrelink also have other benefits such as the Sickness Allowance, Disability Support Pension, Mobility Allowance, Supported Wage System and Crisis Payments.
This means that you might be eligible for support if you go through a period of illness, if you have problems travelling to and from work, or if you need to leave your home due to domestic violence.
How do I get assessed for the Disability Support Pension?
If you have been unable to work for the past 2 years, you may be eligible to receive the Disability Support Pension.The first step is to approach Centrelink and ask them for the paper work that you will need to complete, and book any appointments you need.
They will usually need a report from your doctor and any treating specialists who might be able to provide them with information about your illness. Centrelink have their own staff who will provide you with a job capacity assessment.
What about psychological issues such as depression and anxiety?
Centrelink have their own psychologists who have received specialist training to perform job capacity assessments. They will refer you to one of these psychologists, who will ask you questions about your condition and ability to work. The psychologist will usually spend at least 1-2 hours with you, and may request that you return for another session.
What if I'm not elligible for the DSP?
Many people who eventually receive the DSP spend some amount of time receiving Newstart. This can be difficult because Newstart requires you to look for a certain number of jobs per fortnight, which can be hard if you are suffering from depression or anxiety.
Difficulty applying for jobs
If you have been having difficulty applying for jobs because of your condition, you will need to get a medical certificate from your doctor. You don’t need to go in every day, but the medical certificate does need to state that you are currently medically unfit to work for 8 hours per week.
If you miss an appointment, make sure you get a doctors certificate. If you miss several appointments Centrelink is required to give you a “Comprehensive Compliance Assessment” to determine why this has been happening. If you can bring medical certificates to this assessment, they will usually provide you with extra support, and may give you leniency around the amount of jobs that you need to apply for each week.
Link in with an agency
There are several agencies who can provide you with support, and help you find a workplace with an understanding of health and mental health issues. If they are aware you have a disability, some workplaces may also be able to offer you part time or modified work. This will give you valuable experience and some temporary extra income until you find the job you want.
What gets in the way of seeking help?
Paperwork and red tape
The best person to ask for help is Centrelink’s Community Engagement Officer. There is one in every major city, and in some regional centres as well. It’s their job to help people access the benefits that they are entitled to, and receive support through other agencies.
It may seem like a simple step, but just arranging a time with a friend to fill out paper work means that you are more likely to complete it. They can also provide help if you are experiencing fatigue or “brain fog” that day.
It's not always simple or easy
Unfortunately, it often takes several visits and phone calls to arrange for help, and it takes time. This can be extremely frustrating if you need help right now, or if it took a lot of effort just to pick up the phone.
Just knowing to expect that it will take a few tries can be helpful. It’s ok if it doesn’t get sorted out on the first appointment, or the second. Persistence is the key. Keep a written record of who you have spoken to, when you saw them, and what they told you to do to. Keep any forms you have filled out in a book or a folder, so that you have things with you when you need them.
Try to make phone calls when you are having a good day, so that you have the time and energy to deal with any frustration that you experience.
It’s ok to ask for help
In order to get help, you first need to recognise that you are someone who is living with a disability. Approximately one in five Australians suffer from a disability of some kind. Many of these are things that we don't always think of as a disability, like depression and anxiety, arthritis, poor eyesight, or back pain.
Disabilities don’t discriminate – you can be living with a disability even if you come from a nice family, have a good education, and are living entirely independently. If you are suffering from any kind of mental health issue or chronic illness, you still deserve help regardless of your socioeconomic status, gender, age or education level.
People with Disabilities - A helpful list of agencies and other services for individuls living with a disability
Your Finances - The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation's financial information page
Food Services - A list of places where you can get free meals around Sydney, every day of the week
Financial Counselling - Free financial counselling from Financial Counselling Australia