Lindsey* came to HARP following a rollercoaster journey that started with a violent sexual assault in the early 2000s which triggered severe mental illness including psychosis, as well as addiction, unhealthy relationships and homelessness. Like many who end up on the streets, Lindsey’s journey is a complex one.
“The attack was horrendous. I was raped, dragged through the streets, and beaten to within an inch of my life. My attacker is now doing a life sentence because he murdered the next person he attacked. Afterwards, I started to self-medicate, turning to drugs and alcohol as a form of escapism. I didn’t seek any help and I ended up on the streets for a while – almost out of choice because I had given up on life. When I missed my sister’s wedding because of my addictions, it was a wake-up call. I went into rehab and that’s where I started to deal with some of the emotional issues caused by the attack.”
But the story doesn’t end there. Lindsey made good progress, living in a supported housing project and even going to university, graduating from her bachelor’s degree with honours. Unfortunately it wasn’t all plain sailing, as she started showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, having her first psychotic episode and getting tested for schizophrenia. Eventually, Lindsey ended up in a relationship where she experienced domestic violence. “It was like I was going back to what I know. He broke my nose twice and he kept breaking into my home even after we broke up.”
In 2010 Lindsey moved out of the area to make a new start with her current partner and secured employment in Essex, but she started to experience symptoms of psychosis again, including hallucinations, and had a breakdown. These episodes became a daily occurrence and she lost her job because she hadn’t declared the mental illness when she applied. Lindsey hit rock bottom and tried to take her own life twice.
“I just didn’t see the point in living and couldn’t cope with idea of living with these symptoms for the rest of my life. We were also having problems with our landlord. There were a lot of issues in terms of dilapidation, which were exacerbating my condition, and the owner of the property wouldn’t adhere to his side of the contract. We refused to pay rent until it was fixed and even got environmental health on board, who wrote to landlord, but he chose to evict us rather than do the work.”
After that, Lindsey and her partner were homeless and living on the street. Although they were sometimes able to pay for a hotel, the money ran out and they would sleep in a car park.
“Living on the street was making the symptoms of my psychosis worse because it was triggered by the trauma of my attack, which took place at night. Sleeping outside at night brought it all back.
"Eventually the council became aware of my situation and referred me to HARP, where I got accommodation. The mental health team would come and see me there, as well as the clinical nurse. I started having counselling again, and my key worker was helping me and signposting me to different resources. They were able to help my partner too.”
Lindsey was with HARP for about five months, after which she was accepted for Council housing. Now she’s going from strength to strength:
“I got my Postgraduate degree and am now doing a Doctorate. Though I had a close family bereavement last year, I decided to channel that grief into something positive and ran the London Marathon this year. I’ve also been volunteering with Southend Homeless Hub, who helped me when I didn’t have money for food when I first got my Council flat. I cook for them once a month and I sing at local dementia care homes. I am also part of the Buddy Mentoring Scheme which educates student mental health practitioners. I’m even getting married next year!
“I can’t thank HARP enough. Whatever needed to be done, it was never too much for the staff. When you have a mental health problem you feel like you don’t have a voice. People are quick to categorise and diagnose but my psychosis is not a ‘text book’ case. At HARP I was treated as an individual. They enabled me to find my voice and embrace my mental illness, which I now see as a way to access a different part of my brain rather than a detriment. HARP grounded me so I could find my footing again. I gained inner strength and saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope my life can be a testament to others.”
*In order to protect the privacy of the people we help, names have been changed and models used for this article.