UEL student speaks out: ‘Schizophrenia left me without hope but it is possible to move on’

University of East London student Cordelia Ibe has spoken out about her experience of schizophrenia

University of East London student Cordelia Ibe has spoken out about her experience of schizophrenia for the Minds Matter campaign - Credit: Archant

As the Recorder launches its Minds Matter mental health campaign this week, investigations reporter EMMA YOULE explores mental health in the borough and finds there is rising need but also plenty of room for optimism

Cordelia works as a receptionist at Independent Newham Users Forum as well as studying for a degree

Cordelia works as a receptionist at Independent Newham Users Forum as well as studying for a degree in health promotion - Credit: Archant

When Cordelia Ibe first began to hear voices in her head as a young woman she locked herself away and was unable to eat or look after herself.

It was a time of despair for the 47-year-old from Manor Park, but two decades later she is in her final year of university and has a huge beaming smile as she explains she is looking to the future with hope.

Cordelia has schizophrenia and is one of an estimated 47,000 people in Newham who is living with a mental health problem.

This is the stark reality of an issue that will affect one in four people, yet it is often little talked about or understood.

Dr Dudley Manns, consultant psychiatrist and clinical director for the borough at Newham Centre for

Dr Dudley Manns, consultant psychiatrist and clinical director for the borough at Newham Centre for Mental Health, and Gill Williams, service director for adult mental health in Newham - Credit: Archant

Our investigation has shown that mental health problems in Newham are on the rise, with a huge 43 per cent increase in referrals to health services in the last five years.

Cases of schizophrenia, a serious mental illness that often develops in early adulthood and can be debilitating, have soared by 50 per cent.

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Cordelia first experienced voices in her head after moving to London from her home country of Nigeria in 1989, when she found herself isolated without close friends or family to rely on.

“I was going through a lot of problems with mental health issues and for quite a long time I felt I was hopeless,” she said. “I had nobody to support me, I didn’t know where to go for help.

“I was running from hospital every time until one day I met a community nurse and I told her all about how I felt and she encouraged me and put me into a programme.”

With the right drug treatment and support from the mental health charity Independent Newham Users Forum (Inuf) Cordelia is now living an independent life.

She works a few days a week as a receptionist at Inuf, alongside her degree studies in health promotion at the University of East London. She plans to go on to study a postgraduate course in nursing and hopes to help others.

“What I’m trying to do is find a way that I can live happily, more independently, without going to hospital,” she said.

“I’ve learned from my experience that there could be other people going through this that may need a little bit of help to support them to be where I am now.”

Research shows that Newham has higher levels of mental health problems than nationally.

Experts estimate that 27,000 people have depression or anxiety, 3,000 have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and 11,793 have had suicidal thoughts in the last year.

Health chiefs say the high movement of people in and out of the borough - about 20 per cent of the total population every year - high levels of unemployment and deprivation, and use of cannabis are contributing to the problem.

Dr Dudley Manns, consultant psychiatrist and clinical director for Newham, said: “It’s about the economic downturn, changes to benefits, pressure on housing.

“House prices in Newham are on the up and that’s forcing people into less desirable accommodation or even leaving them homeless.

“People become depressed and lose support structures. I think migration is also part of the picture as we see a lot of young migrant workers in mental health crisis.”

Cases of depression have also shot up by a third and referrals to child and adolescent mental health services have risen by 89 per cent.

The £45million spent on mental health care annually in Newham has not increased to meet the rising demand, but there have been innovations in services.

A new urgent care ward ensures people in mental health crisis are treated in the right setting rather than automatically in hospital.

A talking therapies service is helping people with more common conditions such as depression.

Gill Williams, service director for adult mental health in Newham, encouraged people to seek support.

“For most people mental health problems will be resolved in the same way as physical health problems, and even when they are more severe there is treatment available,” she said.

“People can move forward and live long and healthy lives.”

WHERE TO SEEK HELP

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health difficulties, your GP can offer help and advice in the first instance and put you in touch with local services that can help you.

The Samaritans offer confidential support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on this free to call number, 116 123.

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