Ex-service user, John Stephenson, talks to us on our 10 year anniversary of independence

White man with dark hair, who's wearing a stripy shirt with a tie, and he's holding a book in his arms

Hi John. You were a service user back in 2011 and you have quite a story as to how you got here?

Thanks for talking with me on this significant anniversary for MindOut. I am beyond grateful for your existence and the continued support of the people in Brighton & Hove and beyond!

Back in 2011, I was trying to recover from a stroke and the acquired brain injury.

Prior to this point, I was a happy chap spending many an hour (or day) in Legends, The Bulldog and many more. I was on the scene and was so glad to be part of it. I remember the days when being in a gay club in Brighton meant a visit by a gang of police in rubber gloves. Or being in cruising areas finding a police car flying at you at 50mph on a footpath. I celebrate the change over the past 50 years!

I was still getting out and about. Then I collapsed one night and my boyfriend quickly got me blue-lighted to the Royal Sussex County Hospital. I have no memory of what happened. During the first night I had another episode. I was contorted with my feet hitting the back of my head. My back was damaged with crushed vertebrae and hernias.

When I came around my mind was all over the place. I couldn’t remember anything and I was unable to remember what I was doing most of the time. Going out for milk and turning up at my old address or walking a distance without knowing why I was there! I started having mini blackouts. My mental health team wrote a report saying they didn’t believe anything I told them. The consultant psychiatrist was more of a listener, yet could only provide medication.

A visiting mental health worker was arranged and I was directed to MindOut. After being abused by homophobic clinicians (one even told me off for having a boyfriend who was 25 years younger than me) I found this group of people. They were not only there for me they also had lived experience of the psychosocial issues facing me as a gay man in isolation. That was an important stage in my change in mental health. They saved me.

How might your life be different today if you hadn’t had support from MindOut?

I know exactly how different my life would have been! I wouldn’t be here! Before getting in touch with MindOut I was in intensive care in Eastbourne after giving up and trying to end it all on Hove seafront.

MindOut immediately showed me that there were friends who not only could provide effective psychological care at the highest level but also had the social understanding and experience of LGBTQ+ culture. That made me realise I was not alone! Meeting people in my own culture and peer group was fundamental to my recovery.

It’s our 10-year anniversary of becoming an independent charity. How did you help us get here?

It was all down to the amazing expert team I met in my interaction really. Mind were trying to reabsorb this vital service back into their general offering. I could see that it would be damaging if such a unique, experienced and effective service for Brighton’s growing LGBTQ+ communities were to disappear forever. I couldn’t let that happen and I would do anything I could to save it.

Why did you choose MindOut for your incredibly generous donation of £82,000?

It was synchronicity. I wanted to help with the formation of the independent charity and at the same time I received a bequest. I spoke to the team who agreed it would help. There was no question! I was very pleased to be able to donate this money! I’m so pleased I did as it has helped so many people over the years. I just wish I could have given more and helped to develop the service nationally. That is my dream for the future!

What would you say to someone who was thinking of fundraising, donating, or leaving us a legacy gift?

Do it! As the absolutely fabulous Olly Alexander has shown in his documentary, the mental health needs of our community are specialised and underserved. With suicide rates so high, prevention is better than funerals!

Please, please, please get involved in any way you can! Support those you know are in need and especially those you don’t realise are in need. You never know when you might need their services. Your partner, children, family or friends could be saved by MindOut!

What do you do to manage your own mental health today?

One of the most important things I’ve done during my recovery was to accept I had a stroke and that my mind needed healing as well as my body. Once MindOut helped me get there, I now use tools like mindfulness. Communication with yourself, with friends, with coworkers or with expert support groups like MindOut is vital to recovery. Be Proud and help yourself, you deserve it!

Response from Helen Jones CEO

“Thank you so much for sharing your story John. Becoming independent has been an incredible success for MindOut and LGBTQ mental health. We’ve quadrupled in size in the last decade, which is fantastic growth as an organisation and in the services we’ve been able to provide. It’s been hard work but the last 10 years have gone so quickly. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years.”