Belfast Telegraph

30,000 claim sickness benefits for depression

By Lisa Smyth

Almost 30,000 people in Northern Ireland claim sickness benefits for depression every week - and the cost to our struggling economy is close to £2.5m.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that one in nine people who currently receive one of the main sickness benefits are entitled to the help because they are depressed.

This means the Government pays up to £2,457,079 to people unable to lead a normal life because of depression in just one week alone.

The statistics - obtained by the Belfast Telegraph through Freedom of Information - reveal the crippling burden of mental ill health on sufferers and its devastating impact on the economy.

Doctors in Northern Ireland have reported a rise in the number of people coming to them with depression and blame the increase on the difficult economic climate.

Dr Tom Black, deputy chair of the British Medical Association's NI committee for family doctors, said: "There are certain industries where stress is a particular problem at the moment, such as health workers, bankers and people working in the media."

He said employers must take steps to prevent employees from falling ill as a result of stress in the workplace.

He added: "The problem is that depression doesn't just affect the psychological wellbeing of a person, it affects the physical and social side in terms of their capacity to function at home and at work.

"It is a disease that should be taken seriously."

TV presenter Lynda Bryans, who was diagnosed with depression during her first pregnancy, said: "It is vital people get the help they need.

"It got to the point where I wouldn't answer the front door when I was depressed, but with the right help I was able to get better and have been well ever since."

According to figures released by the Department for Social Development, a total of 260,794 people received Incapacity Benefit, Employment Support Allowance or Disability Living Allowance in June for a variety of conditions.

More than 28,000 - or 11% of them - were entitled to financial support because of depression.

Alison Smyth, of charity Aware Defeat Depression, said: "Some of the high risk factors of having depression are unemployment, poor housing, poor education and chronic or terminal illness, such as stroke or diabetes.

"Unfortunately there is an awful lot of this in Northern Ireland. Add the Troubles to the mix and that gives an idea why the rates of depression are higher than in other parts of the UK."

Case study

Scott Pedie has suffered with depression for the majority of his adult life.

Now aged 38, the father-of-two from Antrim was originally diagnosed when he was just 18 years old.

"I think I had problems in my teenage years, but I didn't recognise the symptoms until I got older," he said.

"I was at university and it was around exam time and particularly stressful. I felt absolutely dreadful. I withdrew completely. Since then I have had episodes almost once a year.

"People tell you to snap out of it, but unless you have been through it you can't understand it."

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