Duvonne is a talented musician - from composing to producing. While at university he decided to pursue his dream and left to set up his own studio and taught music. By his mid-20s he started hearing voices and rather than receive care, he received a 'sentence'. Synergi guest blogger Rafik Hamaizia shares Duvonne's troubling and inspiring story.

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Young, gifted and in secure care: Duvonne’s story

As an Expert by Experience with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), I have been able to inspect mental health services across the country. In this role I have heard about patients’ journey to a mental health ward. Whenever the topic of the experiences of young black men arises, I always recall the first time I met Duvonne Solomon.

I met Duvonne a few years ago on a mental health ward, which was being inspected in South London. I was part of the CQC inspection team and Duvonne was a service user on a secure ward. He briefly told me his story, but it would be several years later when I heard his story in full.

Duvonne was eventually moved to a Cygnet Healthcare hospital where we met again, as I led the service user involvement programme. I was so moved by his story, I decided to dedicate this blog to him.

Duvonne was born in Jamaica and moved to the UK, with his mother, when he was two years old. He attended school, college and went on to university to study music. After a while he decided to leave his degree to work because of issues around his student loan. He became a music teacher and enjoyed singing on the side. He also set up a recording studio which was doing well, attracting regular clients to record songs.

In his mid-20s, Duvonne had started hearing voices. He had been hearing voices for a while but hadn’t told anybody. He thought he could control them. Whenever it got too much he would isolate himself. The voices became worse when he moved out of his mother’s house and it was around that time he began to misuse substances.

Duvonne continued to function, despite the onset of what has now been diagnosed as schizophrenia. His mental health deteriorated to the point where he was always paranoid and depressed. He says that trauma played a significant role in his depression as he was sexually assaulted during a smoking session with other people who were also misusing substances.

As a result, he ended up wanting to take his own life. Duvonne’s mother noticed he was unwell and took him to A&E. Instead of receiving a proper assessment of his mental state, he was prescribed sleeping tablets and sent home with the recommendation to just get “some rest”.

Later that evening, he set his bedroom on fire in an attempt to end his life. The emergency services came to his home, put out the fire and he was taken into police custody. An assessment was conducted, but as they were unsure of what was wrong, Duvonne was sent to prison on remand.

In prison, Duvonne’s health deteriorated. He stopped eating and didn’t leave his cell. It was at that point that the voices became the worst they had ever been. After spending five months in prison, he was transferred to a secure hospital in South London, where I finally had the pleasure of meeting him.

Of his experience, Duvonne says: “Hospitals and prisons are not the nicest of places, especially if you are a young black gay man, as people tend to resort to homophobic slurs and racial insults which only further damage your confidence and willingness to live. I hope that the future of mental health doesn’t involve prisons, and that patients are involved in their own recovery, every step of the way.”

Duvonne spent nearly two years in hospital and was discharged at the end of 2017. Now aged 34, he has enrolled on a pre-access to medicine course at college and is being supported into employment with Cygnet Healthcare as an Expert by Experience.

In February 2018, Duvonne joined me on two reviews of Cygnet hospitals and presented our findings at a board meeting. I also invited him to share his story at a recent CQC mental health away day, where he detailed his journey to nearly every CQC inspector in the mental health directorate.

Despite receiving a hospital order, Duvonne now has a criminal record which will follow him for the rest of his life. This is because a hospital order is technically a sentence because in the eyes of the law, setting a fire to die by suicide is classed as ‘arson with reckless endangerment’.

It’s even more shocking that Duvonne was considered unfit to plead and not having the mental capacity at the time of these events to defend himself. Some legal experts and senior healthcare professionals I have spoken to about his story have said they fear this is a more common experience among people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

When outlining Duvonne’s story to a leading QC who specialises in human rights, I was told; “The statistics don’t lie. There is clear discrimination in this country in the approach of both the criminal justice system and mental health policy towards people from minority ethnic backgrounds. Sometimes there is a thin line between whether someone who is experiencing mental health problems finds themselves in a luxurious private psychiatric hospital in the countryside or in Pentonville Prison. The deciding factor can be one’s class and/or ethnicity.”

Duvonne’s story has inspired my team to consider presenting a legal challenge to the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the conviction status of individuals who are ‘sentenced’ to hospital. It’s too important not to.

I would like to thank Duvonne for allowing me to share his experiences in this blog.

You can follow Duvonne on Twitter to see his progress as an Expert by Experience at @DuVonne.

About the Author

Rafik Hamaizia is the Expert by Experience Lead for Cygnet Healthcare. Rafik, aged 25, has been a service user in a variety of mental health settings. His role within the Cygnet Healthcare is to work alongside the Executive Board of Directors to shape and improve service user involvement, co-production and patient experience structures on both strategic and local levels. In 2017 he was given the Cygnet Healthcare Special Recognition Award by Universal Health Services. He has participated in over 100 Care Quality Commission inspections and develops guidance with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). He is currently studying for an MSc in Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion at the University of Hertfordshire. Rafik is also the founding member of the Joint Thinking Initiative, a not-for-profit, service user led organisation, focusing on improving mental health care through co-production. You can follow Rafik and his work on Twitter: @Raf_Hamaizia.