The Department for Transport recently announced that from 2019, more people with mental health problems and other invisible disabilities will be able to apply for Blue Badges – either via their local authority or through the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The Blue Badge scheme allows disabled people to park closer to their destination, but people with mental health problems have historically found it difficult to access them. Changes to disability benefits in recent years have made this even tougher - but this announcement will improve the process and make clear that mental health should be taken into account when someone applies for a Blue Badge.
For some people with mental health problems like anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and schizophrenia - making even very short journeys in crowded public places can be a huge source of debilitating distress. Being able to park close to a destination can be the thing which makes a journey possible and allows people to live more independently.
Many people find that things outside of their control – such as delays, diversions, or crowded platforms – can cause extreme levels of fear. We hear from people who have had panic attacks as a result of transport problems. These can last a few minutes and involve a very physical response to a mental health problem, characterised by symptoms such as sweating, heart palpitations and hyperventilation. If you’ve never experienced something like this, it can be hard to relate, but panic attacks can cause you to feel as though something terrible is going to happen, or even that you’re going to die.
This move by the Government comes after the recent ruling on PIP which found that changes to the criteria were discriminatory against people with mental health problems. Again, it was a lack of awareness and knowledge about mental health problems that resulted in many people not getting the outcome they deserve. But people with ‘invisible’ illnesses can struggle to make journeys in the same way as people with physical health problems. There is also a huge overlap between physical and mental health problems – with people experiencing things like chronic pain often more likely to report having depression, for example.
After years of underfunding for mental health services, the Government says it’s committed to achieving ‘parity of esteem’ - treating mental and physical health as equally important. Put within this wider context, we hope that opening up the Blue Badge scheme to include people with mental health problems and other hidden disabilities is indicative of a positive shift in attitudes towards those of us living with these lesser understood but potentially debilitating conditions.