The links between physical and mental health spoke to one respondent to our annual survey who has had to leave work due to ill health and wants to get back at some point if she can get the right support.

Mental Health’s annual survey was published last week and shows that a high number of those polled want more work life balance and flexible working and that many have health issues that are preventing them from working or forcing them to reduce their hours, with knock-on implications for their pensions. We spoke to one woman who has been forced to leave her job due to health reasons, but wants to get back to work, with the right support.

Joanne Summers*, aged 60 and from the South West, worked for 16 years as a science technician in a school. She had been trying to manage her worsening arthritis over a 10-year period, but one day in March she broke down in pain at school and was sent to occupational health who said she was no longer capable of doing her job. She spoke to about the fall-out from that decision and why she would want to get back into the workforce in the future, health permitting and if the right flexible work was available.

Joanne says: “I agree that I was not capable of doing my job. It’s quite a physical job, involving bending and lifting and carrying. The only reason I was able to do it so long was because the job was term time only. I went from holiday to holiday. I didn’t take any time to go anywhere in the holidays. Every school holiday was taken up with recovering. The idea of packing and travelling filled me with dread. I was lurching from holiday to holiday, dosing myself up with painkillers and collapsing at the end of every school day. It hadn’t occurred to me that I would have to leave my job until the occupational health person said I was no longer fit to do it. I had intended to stay on until the state pension age [67]. I hadn’t realised how bad it was and now everything has changed.

“I have cut down on heating, which makes my arthritis worse, and on food. I make everything from scratch and cook a big batch for the week. I have no social life as I can’t afford to go out and I live alone. Not working has helped my arthritis, however. I can pace myself through the day and rest if I need to when the pain starts.

“If I could find a job I could do from home for a few hours a week that is flexible enough so I could stop when the pain hurts I would jump at the chance, something from home that I could do at my own pace where I could choose when I did it. But it is really hard to find those jobs and you have to scroll through hundreds of unsuitable ones to find them.”


Joanne, who is on PIP, but didn’t realise until recently that she could also claim Universal Credit [which she is now on], is not getting any help with looking for work yet, which suits her for now. She can work up to 16 hours without losing her benefits, but since March she has found, through her various trips to the doctor, that she has several other health issues. She says she is on the waiting list in four different NHS departments. For one of her conditions the waiting list is between two and five years.

She says: “It took a long time to get the benefits I was entitled to and for a long time I had no money at all. The Universal Credit claim came through last month. I only found out I could claim that by accident and it only dates from when I put in the claim. The Government doesn’t make it easy; it doesn’t seem to be falling over itself to hand money out. I wouldn’t want to think that I can carry on like this on benefits until the state pension age without being able to work. It’s not feasible. I will end up freezing to death or dying of malnutrition before that. But my health needs to improve first. I don’t feel well enough to look for work now. I’m just struggling to keep myself alive. And the whole experience of not having any money and being ill is having a bad impact on my mental health. I feel I am 10 years older since this time last year.”

*Not her real name

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