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Driving with a mental illness: a sufferer explains

Mental health issues have a higher profile but many people are unclear about which conditions may lead to a licence being suspended or not

Erica Crompton with her Fiat Panda
Gamechanger: Erica Crompton found that buying her Fiat Panda made her more independent - and saved her a fortune on taxis Credit: John Lawrence

If Driving in my Car by Madness was the motoring theme I grew up with, then it has been a much more literal madness that coloured my driving as an adult. Psychosis (or I have Schizo-Affective Disorder, if you really want to be exact).

2018国产亚洲精品免费视频Let’s get the record straight – you can drive and have a severe mental illness. But it is a legal requirement to report certain mental illnesses to the DVLA and that this is monitored every one to three years with regular input from a health professional such as your psychiatrist or GP. There’s a helpful list of mental illnesses that need reporting on the DVLA Gov.uk website – if in doubt give them a call for clarification.

We have included a list of the warning signs/thins to look out for at the foot of this article.

Driving is an important component in getting help (or in some cases not getting help). I had a friend so paranoid he felt the sun was specifically out to burn him and no one else. He suffered with psychosis, rarely leaving the house for almost eight months but didn’t want his driving licence taken away from him so refused to seek help.

Had he been to the GP he not only would have received help for his psychosis, but he probably could have continued to drive.

Erica says small cars such as the Panda are perfect, being cheap to run, easy to park and small enough to feel in control Credit: John Lawrence

Under Section 88 of The Road Traffic Act 1988 you can continue driving even though you do not hold a current driving licence. In practice, says the official, online Government source, this will be when you have applied to the DVLA to renew your licence, but the licence expires (runs out) while they are processing the application (1).

According to Professor Stephen Lawrie, Psychiatrist and Head of Psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh: “Despite what you might fear, the DVLA will generally let people drive if they have a diagnosis and are well on medication, even if they have had a recent acute psychotic episode.”

Like 4 in 100 people, I have psychosis, and my licence is currently under review. I’ve also recently bought a snazzy, primrose yellow Fiat Panda – the perfect car for those of us with a mental illness. It’s cheap to run, easy to park and small enough to feel in control of the vehicle.

2018国产亚洲精品免费视频I had previously been off the road due to finances in 2006, but after a spell in a mental hospital in 2009 and a subsequent two years with the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia (ouch!), and whenever I mentioned getting a car, I found loved ones getting nervous (Dad: “It wasn’t long ago you almost burnt my house down at 3am, mindlessly tossing a cigarette in the bin!”)

Greater independence brings its own health rewards when you can access the countryside Credit: John Lawrence

Last year marked a decade since that hospital stay and my recovery, stability and ability to get along had markedly improved – I was now independent, with two stonking great Tom cats in tow, and my own little cottage. I have also been spending in excess of £150 a month on Ubers – so it feels like a good time to get back on the road.

This time round, and having refrained from recently burning down his home, Dad agreed a car was a good idea and even helped with buying the vehicle.

So, after a few texts we were off to the local Fiat dealership on our ‘Panda Hunt’. Dad’s advice was to buy new or up to five years old. My budget was a bit less, and there are savings to be had on purchase and running costs, as well as insurance, with older, smaller cars.

Other family members had suggested a sportier-looking Fiat Punto, but we decided on a Panda as it’s a newer model that’s still being made today.

Insurance with a medical condition can be pricey and for newer, sportier cars I had been quoted prices in excess of £995 a year, which had prevented me from purchasing a car in the past. However, after running various smaller, older cars through price comparison sites I found that with a 10 year-old hatchback such as the Fiat Panda, insurance is a more moderate £400, decreasing as the car gets older.

The sportiest, most desirable small hatchbacks such as the Ford Fiesta ST are prohibitively expensive to insure

I purchased a five-door, 2010 Panda in primrose yellow for £2,795 and the cheapest insurer I found was Churchill at £448 a year. Tax cost just £30 for the year.

Money is not too much of a problem with the various disability benefits I get in addition to my income, and I wondered if an award letter from the Department of Work and Pensions for PIP (Personal Independent Payment --that’s the gold-standard disability benefit) would help me access other benefits while driving. 

Sadly not, I found. For a disabled badge you need to have scored points on the ‘mobility’ part of the PIP Award, which people with severe mental illnesses rarely will unless they have an accompanying physical disability and struggle to walk or get about.

However, being back on the road has been a positive gamechanger for me. I enjoy driving. Dad got me some ‘P’ plates to alert other drivers that I’m only just getting back into the swing of driving. And I’m saving about £40 a month in taxis and am much more able to get around, making me less isolated in my cottage.

2018国产亚洲精品免费视频It’s been a joy driving along the ribbons of tarmac singing my theme tune by Madness. My little car is not quite a Jaguar, as the song goes, true. But I’m out and about markedly more – something my psychiatrist would approve of – than before I had a car, and am quids in each month.

So it’s fair to say the car keys have opened up much more than the boot of the Panda.

The warning signs

By Professor Stephen Lawrie, Head of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh

If you think you (or someone you care about) may be mentally ill and unsafe to drive there are a few key issues to consider. Above all, ask yourself whether any mental illness you have impairs your attention, concentration or judgement.

If in doubt, you could perhaps ask people who know you well, or get an opinion and advice from your GP or a psychiatrist. You may wish to give your car keys to someone you know until you are feeling better and safe to drive again.

The most common cause of mental illness related driving accidents is alcohol misuse.  If you have an ongoing alcohol or illicit drug problem you will have impaired attention and concentration, be less aware of your surroundings, less able to react to any situation that may arise on the roads, and quite possibly over-confident about your driving abilities. So, you should not drive. 

If you do, you are a potential danger to yourself, other road users and pedestrians. This is why it is illegal to drive intoxicated with alcohol or illicit drugs in most countries around the world. 

If you have a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychotic depression, you are obliged to report this to the DVLA. The same is true if you are prescribed certain drugs such as opiates and benzodiazepines.

If you have schizophrenia or a related psychosis you could be distracted by delusions or hallucinations. If you are ‘high’, as part of a bipolar disorder, you may be impulsive and reckless, which may increase your driving speed or likelihood of taking on risky manoeuvres.

People with depression or anxiety do not usually need to report their illness to the DVLA unless they are suicidal or very agitated. 

It is worth noting that the DVLA generally takes the view that you are safe to drive if you have a treated stable mental illness. Rightly, they see a treated mental illness as less of a concern than an untreated one. 

Further, if you have a serious mental illness and don’t tell them, you can be fined up to £1,000 – and your car insurance may be invalid if you have an accident. 

The bottom line is that if you are concerned that your mental state may affect your driving you should seek help for the problem and avoid driving until well again. As ever, you are better safe than sorry. 

The Beginner’s Guide to Sanity – a self-help book for people with psychosis, by Erica Crompton and Professor Stephen Lawrie, is out now on Hammersmith Health Books

References: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/695575/inf188x6-can-i-drive-while-my-application-is-with-dvla.pdf

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