Another chance to feast on my life

“I want to feel better and to help people who are recovering because I have those feelings of mental health to support others,” says Dorrel Bennett, a woman who is strong of spirit and resilient to the core.

It was back in 2013 when Dorrel had this vision. But she says her mental health has deteriorated because of her battle to remain in the UK. She fears another breakdown like that she experienced in 2004, following being wrongly arrested by the police.

Since then Dorrel, now 59, has been diagnosed with acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression and takes medication. Her immigration status has been challenged in numerous applications to the Home Office and on March 11 she was served with notification of liability to be detained and removed from the UK.

Up until June 2004 Dorrel was happy, healthy with a bright future ahead. She was born in Jamaica “before independence” and has four grown up daughters and a son and grandson there. She had moved to England in 2002 and was studying for an NVQ in Health and Social Care.

Dorrel was living in Brixton and on that fateful summer’s day in 2004 she had popped in to see her friend in the local restaurant where she worked as a chef. Little did she realise that the events about to unfold would change her life forever.

She was enjoying her lunch and talking to her friend when suddenly two masked police officers burst into the kitchen carrying guns and wearing helmets and bullet proof vests.

“One of them pointed a gun in my face and said ‘get down’, says Dorrel. “I was extremely frightened… He said something about a drug’s den and I had no idea what he was talking about.”

Dorrel and her friend were made to lie face down; they were handcuffed with plastic ties and transported to Lewisham police station. Dorrel asked the arresting officer for her bag, which had been left in the restaurant but the officer in charge told him to leave it.

The ordeal lasted 18 hours. Dorrel was strip-searched and moved to Catford police station where she was held overnight. She was further traumatised as she had her period at the time. “It was disgraceful the way I was left in that state in the cell,” she adds.

Dorrel was released the next day without her bag and had to beg the bus fare back to Brixton (her bag containing her bus pass and keys has never been returned, though her mobile phone, which was also in the bag has).

Looking back on her ordeal, Dorrel says. “I was in shock, I couldn’t remember anything, my head felt like it was exploding. I stopped studying, I was depressed and threatened suicide.”

The months that followed were agonising. At first Dorrel refused to have a solicitor because “I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, I certainly hadn’t been involved in any criminal activity”. Eventually she changed her mind and after reporting to Brixton police station several times with her solicitor, she was told there would be no further action taken against her. Although she made an official complaint against the police and got a letter back, which confirmed she had been in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ , she is unhappy about the outcome.

Since then the Home Office still holds her passport and she says she is living a nightmare.

“I never got the chance to finish my studies because I have been too unwell and I need the time to recover but the Immigration service doesn’t seem to understand that.”

She gets through with her faith and support from those she has met along her journey, including those at Certitude and the Living Well Partnership (hosted by Mosaic). She volunteered as a Missing Link peer supporter in its early days working with those in transition from their community mental health team. (Peer supporters also worked with the then Community Options (COT) and Primary Care Support Service (Pass) teams, sharing their lived experiences with people for up to 12 weeks in the community).

Peer support is all about having somebody walk by your side who isn’t trying to fix you but just being there and empathising. While they may support you to do practical things, like sorting your benefits, the uniqueness of peer support lies in the fact that those involved have lived experience of mental health. So just having someone to listen could be all it takes to start to turn your life around. VB knows how this feels because when she was at a low ebb, it was linking with others in similar circumstances that changed her life.

Dorrel praises Missing Link’s co-ordinator Lucas Teague, who encouraged her to keep believing in herself. In 2012 she gained certificates in peer evaluation at Southbank University (Qualitative Research and the Advanced Qualitative methods and Vital Involvement in training and learning).

Dorrel says her faith is her foundation and over the years she has built on that, always prepared to try new things to get her through the terrifying things that happened to her in 2004, which created her mental health problems. After that, her GP referred her to a counsellor and from there she started attending Fanon Resource Centre (Certitude). She joined the women’s group, the choir and started to cook. She gained much from a New Beginnings course (Expert Patient Programme) to help her cope with her depression. She volunteered on a ward at Lambeth hospital as part of Fanon’s in-reach work, thanks to the support of her key worker who walked by her side. ” I know how scarey mental health can be and I want to put something back; that’s why I used to cook; cooking is important to my culture and my recovery.”

“I feel highly supported by the Collaborative group, including those with mental health issues. she says. I want the chance to recover from my mental illness with the medication and support groups… This won’t happen if I get deported. ”

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Karen Hooper

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