The spirit to survive

Care in the community is a much-maligned phrase, but it is
essential for mental health service users as there are so many of
us and so few beds in the hospitals. I first became ill when I was
doing postgraduate studies in maths, like John Nash in the
Oscar-winning film A Beautiful Mind. After I left hospital
in 1997, I was frightened. I’ve clawed my way back and I’m lucky to
be here – I could have died.

I am now living with schizophrenia and beginning to use my
mathematical talent again with help from my local university.
Loneliness and boredom are common experiences for service users
here because England has a stiff upper lip culture.

Let’s reject this culture and start caring for one another as Jesus
demanded. I believe that the churches hold the key. They should
start community projects to give service users a feeling of
acceptance which is the key to recovery.

I recovered from schizophrenia because I became a Christian. I was
first in hospital for eight months and during that time I began to
seriously think about my place in the scheme of things. At first I
thought I was under the influence of a voodoo priest and that that
was responsible for all my problems. I gradually became more
balanced and began to see that mine was essentially a spiritual
problem and that the Bible had a lot to say about such things. Just
before going in hospital I had visited Hilfield Friary in Dorset.
Brother Sam from the friary came to see me in hospital and I began
to think that becoming a monk and being looked after by the friars
was an option.

I also had my first proper girlfriend in hospital. Denise looked
after me as only she could. Often we would be the first ones up on
the ward at 6.30 in the morning and we would just talk while
holding hands. She was brain damaged so the staff couldn’t
understand our relationship but it was a very real one for both of
us. Then, when I got out of hospital I started going to church for
the first time in years.

The church I was in encouraged me to resume playing the guitar. I
was given the responsibility of playing for a house church each
week and that did my self-esteem a lot of good. More recently a
married lady from church has taken me under her wing. I can visit
her anytime and often she will cook meals for me. That gives me a
feeling of being loved, something which I have badly needed as my
own family are very unsupportive – they demand a stiff upper lip
approach. It’s important that people like me speak out about their
experiences, which is why I am a media volunteer for the voluntary
organisation Rethink. I hope the government will listen to real
experts like me when they change mental health law. The draft
Mental Health Bill can only make my life harder when I just want
the right help and support to make the most of life.

Any money available for mental health should be used to improve the
quality of services for everyone so we get real care in the
community, not treatment for so-called “dangerous severe
personality disorder,” which does not exist in any medical

Martin Reynolds is a mental health service user.

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