We speak to Amanda and her brother Simon, who has schizophrenia. They tell us how support for people with serious mental health conditions has changed over the decades.

Simon Partridge pulls up in his car and his younger sister Amanda gets in. They drive to their favourite restaurant and enjoy a delicious meal and chat about what they’ve been up to, as they do regularly. Simon, 59, tells Amanda about his recent art exhibition, how his show on community radio is going, and shares some of the poetry he has just written.

Simon leads an interesting and varied life, but what makes his story even more remarkable is that for nearly forty years he has lived with schizophrenia. The condition was first diagnosed when Simon was twenty, in the second year of his English degree at Oxford University. Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious long-term mental health needs. It can cause a range of symptoms, which may include hallucinations, unusual thoughts and beliefs not grounded in reality.

"They only had one drug"

“It was the 1970s and how they treated people with mental health needs was pretty archaic and they only had one drug,” recalls Amanda, who is three years younger than Simon. “There was an enormous stigma attached to mental health and a lot of prejudice. Nobody talked about it. There was also this idea that, “you’re in the family, so you must be ‘crazy’ too,” – it was really unhelpful. Simon was in hospital initially and I remember us walking through the grounds with him telling me how terrible it was.”

When Simon came to be supported by United Response around two decades later, he was very isolated, spending much of his time alone in his room, and was understandably very wary of new staff. He would hold out his hand from behind the door to get his medication, and it took service manager Steve Blake three years to be allowed to enter Simon’s room. “Simon had a strong sense that the outside world was conspiring against him,” Steve recalls of the early days. “He felt like people were tying invisible ropes around his legs to trip him up, and he had build-ups where he had to scream. Over the years, I’ve seen him transform from someone highly suspicious who thought the world was his enemy, to someone who is always looking to help and give someone a hand. He’s the kindest, most gracious man I’ve ever met.”Simon playing chess

Getting the right support

Today, with the right support, Simon is able to live a full and meaningful life, and shares a top-floor flat in a United Response Supported Living service with his partner Ginny, who also has mental health needs. Ginny does most of the cleaning and laundry while Simon does the shopping and cooking, as well as managing the bills. Staff support the couple emotionally and with practical aspects such as accompanying them to appointments. They have access to 24-hour care at the facility if needed.

“For me, it is a dream come true,” says Simon of his support experience. “I couldn’t be without it. I am treated as a person – a valued person. I have everything I need: food, warmth, companionship, understanding and a cool environment.”

Making a difference

Amanda agrees that the support Simon receives has made an enormous difference. “I’ve seen a lot of changes in him since being supported by United Response over the past twenty years or so,” she says. “They’ve given him the time, space, privacy and support, both mentally and with practical things, to be himself and have more independence. It’s exactly what he needs to live his life.”

How we support people with mental health needs

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