On Tuesday, the New Zealand Herald ran the story of a woman who died (read committed suicide) four days after being declined counselling assistance by ACC (see the whole article here). It could be argued that there is no link between these two events, but it’s hard not to draw conclusions. Having been on the receiving end of insensitive letters and shoddy reports from ACC, I know how easy it is to get that last knock which sets off the final downward spiral. We’ll never know whether this tragedy could have been averted or not. People within therapy do commit suicide, so there is a possibility, that even with counselling, this would have happened. But there will always be that… “What if… ?” I know her children will always wonder and question…
The reason why her claim had been denied, was that ACC determined that she hadn’t suffered a “significant mental injury” due to sexual abuse. Yet, the counsellor initiating the claim, clearly stated that she was suicidal because of the abuse. If you’re wondering how this can happen, ACC look at other factors in your life, to see if the symptoms you are suffering from can be attributed elsewhere. As an example, I am deemed to have grown up in a “challenging” home environment due to having an alcoholic father (among other factors). When someone grows up in such an environment, it is statistically expected for them to be impaired in some way, for example, children of alcoholic parents are more likely to suffer from depression. So it would seem that ACC decided in this woman’s case, that her current issues were not due to the sexual abuse.
As an outsider, it’s easy to cite other resources for help that she could have approached instead of the ACC funded therapy – LifeLine, Mental Health Crisis Teams etc. But in reality, it’s not always that simple. Speaking from my experiences, when I’ve reached out to the Crisis Lines, their goal is to talk you through that moment and to suggest options for assistance long term. Often, those options are under-funded and over-stretched. As an example, if I wanted to see someone through the Mental Health Team, I’d be looking at a six month waiting period – just to be assessed. When you’re in that pit of hopelessness, six months may as well be 20 years, it seems like an eternity and beyond hope. This is the reason why the recent changes to the ACC pathways have been so damaging. The options for someone who doesn’t receive assistance from ACC are limited and often cost prohibitive. Not many people can afford the cost of therapy; and as it would be considered a pre-existing condition, no private health insurer would accept coverage.
In the same newspaper article that told of this woman’s death, it was announced that there would be a review of the new ACC pathways. I hope the reviewers seriously look at the Massey Guidelines – the original work, not the slanted way in which ACC has adopted them. As Kyle MacDonald pointed out, the way ACC have used the Guidelines, is to pretty much ignore them in favour of Goodyear-Smith, Lobb and Mansell (2005).
I also hope that this woman’s death isn’t used for political gain… She, like so many others who didn’t make it, deserve some dignity.