I might be showing my age when I say I remember the Mars bar advertising slogan “a Mars a day lets you work, rest and play” but I think it is a perfect way of describing what a balanced lifestyle is, in terms of mental wellbeing. I would like to propose that disabled people need and deserve to have this balance, in the same way as anyone else.
The first and probably most controversial of these in terms of disabled people is of course work. While many disabled activists claim they wish to work, the evidence is very different. This can be highlighted by an astonishing article on a disability blog I read on Friday that claimed that many disability activists were offended that the Conservative Party used the term “hardworking people” at their party conference, which suggests to me these activists believe disabled people can not and should not work, seriously insulting the many disabled people and their families who are hardworking in the widest sense of the meaning. I think this desire to write off disabled people as unemployable is demonstrating these activists are like the racists who hide behind the issue of immigration to justify their belief system.
Work for me does not necessarily mean paid employment or indeed any employment but also education, training, parenting and so on. For so many, work is therapeutic, and often the best way to manage something like depression is not to sit at home stewing but actually being at work for a whole range of reasons. If you really want to work, you will find a way of doing so, even if there are a lot of barriers. Once again, those who are complaining that the government is not doing enough or public transport is terrible, despite often having a car, are simply making excuses that I am tired of hearing.
Those who work clearly deserve a rest and therefore deserve a stress free holiday, which is currently more easily said than done for many disabled people. A holiday is something that has to be earned and I am afraid if you are too sick to work, then you are too sick for a holiday. Holidays are not so much a luxury as an important way to balance the left brain with the right brain, and ensure people can relax and keep good mental wellbeing. While doing nothing, or just less, may be great for a few weeks in the year, it can be very stressful if it is forced onto people.
I believe one of the biggest problems for disabled people who do not work, is the unnecessary stresses and strains of not working on the mind as boredom can be much more damaging than any amount of hard work. If I was told I could not do any more work ever again, like many people, I think I would feel my life was not worth living. This is why it is so important mentally and emotionally to have the right balance between work and rest to have a good quality of life.
Play is the poor relation of Rest, especially amongst adults. While people can get the need for a holiday, the gaps between them can be too long and therefore we become burnt out before we reach our holiday. Play is those little fun and exciting things we do on a more regular basis to keep us sane. These may include going swimming, going to the theatre, going Whitewater rafting and so on. There are as important to the mental wellness of disabled people as much as anyone else, but it is often what gets the least attention.
I feel that like holidays, it is right that the state does not generally pay for play as it must be earned through work financially and emotionally. This means those who prefer not to work, in the widest sense, are excluding themselves from play, and having a balanced lifestyle, probably exacerbating the stresses and strains they are experiencing. While people understand the Paralympics, access to grass root mainstream sport and other activities for disabled people is still not as accessible or inclusive as it should be. This means many disabled people are not attracted to play activities and therefore are denied the opportunity of a balanced lifestyle.
We must look at changing welfare and social care policies to ensure all disabled people, and indeed everyone, have access to the three components that make a balanced lifestyle, if not just for their benefit, then for the benefit of the whole of society as a solution to addictions and other vices. Hard work is something good for the health of the nation, not a form of stigma to be avoided.
If you like what I say, have a look at my website at http://www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74