Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting GAZETTE NEWS to 80360, or email
How mental health group fought back against NHS cuts
MENTAL health services are often seen as the “Cinderella” of the NHS.
Campaigners claim, despite a quarter of people suffering mental health problems at some time in their life, the services are underfunded and under-resourced.
With the NHS facing increased financial pressure, and north Essex looking to make cuts of £84million over the next four years, some fear things will only get worse.
In 2009, mental health day centres at Oak House, in Maldon Road, Colchester, and Dorson House, in Orwell Road, Clacton, were closed.
They were replaced with “bridge builders”, staff who offer one-on-one sessions with patients.
However, this did not replace the benefits of patients being in contact with fellow sufferers.
That was where the Colchester and Braintree Isolation Network (Cabin) came in.
Steve Palmer, who has suffered anxiety and depression since he was 16, is a member of the group and says its closeness and protectiveness is its hallmark.
He said: “Our objective is to strengthen and nurture tribal empathy because it works. What happens if someone’s condition goes back a bit? We are here to try to stop people falling backwards.”
Every member is there for a different reason.
Former biker Michael Stracey, originally from Witham, has had it tough for a long time.
He became homeless as a teenager and ended up living in a hostel in Braintree aged 16, and then needed support after his partner and two cousins died in 2008 Looking back, he said: “I was hurting. I had been a full-time carer for my partner and it was stressful. I moved to Halstead and Marcus Laroche, another group member, was my next door neighbour.”
Mr Stracey, who has been on anti-depressants for three years, credits the group with getting him through that time.
Mr Laroche, 36, has battled with schizophrenia since he was 20.
He has had several voluntary jobs and studied various courses, including an A/S level in psychology he is currently doing at the Wilson Marriage Centre in Barrack Street, Colchester.
He said: “During the week I have one or two good days and one or two bad days and one or two days when I am indifferent.
“It’s hard to look after yourself.
“With Cabin, it’s good to meet people where labels don’t matter.
“I don’t feel comfortable going mainstream all the time. It’s good to meet friends and chill.”
Volunteer Dave Williams cannot work due to shoulder and knee problems.
He admits before he got to know people with mental health problems he had a harsh view of them.
The Colchester resident, a born again Christian, said meeting the people from Cabin had altered his opinion.
He added: “They bleed the same as us. There’s not enough questions asked of the people themselves. Embarrassment is the biggest thing. Because of the politcally corret era we are in, people are scared of saying the wrong thing.”
Mr Williams feels strongly those who close day centres have no real concept of how desperately they are needed.
He said: “The powers-that-be said they needed to see what was happening with their money, but you won’t ever see it because it’s to do with the heart and the mind.
“We have had one or two successes where people have gone back into society in the way the powers-that-be want.
“I think it’s absolutely marvellous that this group has come together to look after each other.
“I was gobsmacked when I saw how they went from strength to strength.”
The group, which is not a charity, recently raised £121 in a fundraising quiz and raffle evening in Halstead’s Royal Oak, and has also attracted £240 funding from mental health charity Rethink, but it needs more.
To support its work, contact Mr Palmer via the group’s website at tinyurl.com/3r8uka8