Being labelled schizophrenic didn’t do me any favours


When I was given the label ‘schizophrenia’ everything was falling apart. I had just had a bereavement that I couldn’t see coming. I lost my dad and I was far far away from home with no relative and no one to talk to about it. I had financial problems at that time and I began to lose everything. I had to stop my studies at University, I went downhill quickly. It was too much for me to take. I ended up homeless and began to go in a new direction that I’d never been in before – drinking, selling drugs to get bits of money just to survive, even smoking marijuana myself. I was sleeping rough and that’s how I ended up in a tower block in East London and hearing voices telling me to believe. I didn’t know what they were. I thought it was a dream. That’s how I ended up sweating and running out into the street in the middle of the night. I remember a car pulling up in front of me and two white plainclothes police officers got out. They were tall, stocky white men. They started asking me questions but I didn’t want to talk to them. They put their hands on me and I tried to get away but they wrestled me to the floor. A van came and picked me up and brought me to a police cell. It was my first time ever in a police station. I was banging my head on the wall, I just wanted to get out of there and that’s when I was sectioned.

In hospital I remember meeting the psychiatrist with about seven people sitting around a table. The RMO was asking me questions. But they didn’t even ask me where I was from or why I was so distressed or anything. They diagnosed me and gave me medication. I think they were just looking at me as an ‘angry young black man’, who was smoking too much marijuana and they link this to psychosis and to me that was a wrongful diagnosis. At that time, I didn’t know what schizophrenia was and I couldn’t ask. They gave me no information and there were no booklets to read on the ward. I couldn’t Google it. I just went along with it then. I needed a place just to be.

The label of schizophrenia made things worse for me. People distanced themselves from me, like friends and family. People thought I might be dangerous because I had that label but I have never even hurt a fly. When I think of it now in my quiet moments, my tears fall. It was the stereotyping and the assumption that you’re dangerous. You lose respect, you lose friends, you lose your individuality.

Because of that label they just gave me medication. I was never offered any bereavement counselling or talking therapies. The medication was just unhelpful to me because I didn’t need all those drugs. It was making me worse. I was shaking and drooling all the time. If I’d had bereavement counselling or someone to talk to I would never have been in that place. If I’d been able to stay in my flat or go into a hostel, it wouldn’t have happened. That was the first time I’d ever lost someone close to me and I was far away from home.

I’ve recovered now, so it’s something I would like to put in the past. The label schizophrenia was imposed on me for the wrong reasons but I survived it. But it stays on my medical records. It’s going to be there always. When can I be the normal person I was before the label? No. I’ll always be an ‘ex-service user’. That label is there the rest of your life. How do you regain your individuality?

It also harmed my family. Coming from the Gambia and from an affluent and educated African family – back home, if someone is ill in a family like that people will say others have put something like a curse on the family and people won’t want to associate with you.

The label hindered my recovery. What eventually helped me on my recovery was attending workshop sessions and talking therapies and engaging more with Mellow and service-user networks but I was lost on my own then. In the end, I felt they were doing nothing for me. I went and found support myself. Being labelled schizophrenic didn’t do me any favours but I learned to survive it. I want to tell others that you can come through something like this and lead a meaningful life.