February 1, 2010

MARY MINIHAN

ALMOST A quarter of the 77,665 people in receipt of illness benefit last year cited mental health issues as the reason they were unfit for work, new figures show.

Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin has said she will develop policy to take account of increasing numbers of people now on disability payments because of mental illness.

People claiming illness benefit because of depression or anxiety rose from just over 6,000 in 2001 to almost 10,000 last year, according to the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

Those citing stress as the major contributing factor in their application for the benefit grew to more than 4,500 last year from just over 1,000 in 2001.

The figures also show that the number of women in receipt of illness benefit citing post-natal depression as the reason they were unfit for work rose from almost 870 in 2001 to more than 2,000 in 2009. However, a spokeswoman for the department said this may not represent a particular increase in incidence as it “could be aligned to an increase in the number of women having babies and numbers of women working or insured under PRSI”.

Some categories of mental health illness remained relatively static, with three people citing “phobia” in 2001 and four citing the condition in 2009. Claimants citing “panic attack” rose from 62 in 2001 to 78 last year.

The number of people citing “neurosis” dropped from 97 in 2001 to 84 in 2009.

For claims started since last year, illness benefit can be paid at personal rates of between €88.10 and €196 a week, depending on average weekly earnings, for up to two years if 260 PRSI contributions have been made.

It is understood the Minister’s policy will promote early intervention “to try to help people from becoming long-term dependent on social welfare

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