‘People with mental illness in Camden have no confidence in services,’ meeting told after man’s death

Jeffery Mann died in September last year

Jeffery Mann died in September last year - Credit: Archant

Friends of a man who took his own life after being told the mental health support he received would be withdrawn told Camden Council this week they feel ignored and fearful for their future.

The Highgate Centre, Highgate Road

The Highgate Centre, Highgate Road - Credit: Archant

A coroner ruled that anxiety over future service provision at the Highgate Day Centre was “a directly contributing factor” in the death of Jeffery Mann, who took his life last September two weeks after being told his “associate membership” there was set to end.

A group of service users, led by Tony Fisher, told councillors and officers there was no point in constantly holding consultations if they failed to take heed of what they were told on mental health provision in the borough.

Mr Fisher said: “As the long-term mentally ill in Camden, we have no confidence in services.”

Referring to the Highgate Centre, which had its budget slashed from £270,000 to £130,000 by the council last year, Mr Fisher said: “It’s been stripped to the core. It’s just not working for anyone anymore. Attendance has fallen sharply, it’s a shell, it’s died.”

The centre offers therapeutic classes and workshops to people with significant mental health problems but has seen its staff reduced from seven to three full-time workers, and is no longer allowed to serve lunch to members.

Some 80 users have seen their “associate membership” end, meaning they can no longer attend other than for a once weekly “graduate drop-in” class.

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The reason given for ending associate membership was to make the centre “recovery based” after Dr Vincent Kirchner said there was a risk ongoing membership could make people dependent, but Mr Fisher said the recovery-based model is “widely discredited”.

Another service user, Justine, spoke of the problem with the prevailing idea that every mentally ill person should “get back to work”.

She said: “There is an obsession with recovery, but some people will never get better.”

Speaking after the meeting, service users said that some members of the centre were now being “hunted down” for an attendance allowance of £40 per day, and that this was causing acute anxiety.

A friend of Mr Mann’s said: “We were all really shocked when Jeff killed himself because he wasn’t the one you would have expected to do it. He was the quiet one, he didn’t shout the loudest.”

Cllr Sally Gimson, chief of adult social services, said the council would try to learn lessons from Mr Mann’s tragic death.

She said: “I am determined that we will get it right for people who have long-term mental illness.”