This short talk/speech on mental health/employment was made by Yvonne Stewart-Williams at The House of Commons; as part of the Paul Burstow MP parliamentary showcase reception on behalf of the Mental Illness and Employment Task and Finish Group: Addressing the serious health inequity of employment outcomes on Tuesday 13th January 2015.
My name is Yvonne Stewart-Williams. I am a Lesbian, a Freemason, a British Quaker Overseer responsible for people’s pastoral care. I am a student studying with the Open University for a Combined Social Science degree. I am a Political Activist and ran for my local council in 2010, and again in 2014 and took part in hustings. I am a Gay Rights Campaigner and did my bit with Stonewall and other groups to secure the rights to equal marriage, I am a Mental Health Campaigner and Activist; I am also a mother.
My journey started twenty-two years ago, with a diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia, and I was shown the door to the Day Centres. I didn’t accept this. For thirteen years, I battled. While battling I was introduced to Service Users groups and also therapeutic employment; where I could earn five pounds a day on top of my benefits, for four days out of five. At the end of the day, I decided that I would like to do some voluntary work outside of that group. One of my finest moments was instigating and having the delivery of The Pink Paper Lesbian and Gay free magazine, throughout the SLAM (South London and Maudsley Hospital Trust).
What changed for me was my Care Coordinator supported me into full time employment; which I am in today, almost eight years on, after thirteen years of unemployment. She did that by supporting me and giving me help with my application forms, believing in me, giving me mock interviews, phoning me just before the interview and giving me a reference.
I thank my Thames Reach employers, London wide Homelessness Organisation, which employed me as a Support Worker, which allowed me to have psychotherapy every week, and time out to do that, as well as meet with my Care Coordinator which I am still with; and also be mindful, during Supervision to talk about my mental health and to liaise with my Community Health Worker.
Now you may think that that is a happy ever after story, but I’ll let you know that two years into my employment with Thames Reach, I relapsed and ended up in prison for eight weeks after which the prison guards drove me to SLAM (South London and Maudsley Hospital) and I stayed there for three months.
My managers visited me in prison and hospital. My Care Coordinator and psychiatrist visited me. They wrote reports. I had to be re-deployed, but they kept me in my job.
Today I am a productive member of my workplace and my manager loves nothing better than when I walk into the place.
So if you think that someone with a severe mental illness, such as mine, can’t live a productive life. I am here to testify, they can and they will with support. It needs to be within the vision of recovery. It can’t be just about medication, which I am on as well. It can’t be just medication and day centres, or that they are quiet so that’s okay. It must be about the path to employment and support to get that. Allowing them to be in the mainstream of society, recovery and living a life beyond their wildest dreams. Even with mental illness and their condition as severe as it might be.
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