In many ways, the 80s and 90s were a far simpler time than today without the pressure of mobile phones and social media. We had bands like Oasis and the Spice Girls, Princess Diana, and also experienced the Gulf War.
But there was an insidious policy being enacted at home where the government of the time began to implement a policy known as Care in the Community.
In theory, this sounded like a great idea. In reality, it led to the closure of many psychiatric hospitals with seriously ill patients being put out on the streets with little to no provisions made available to them. The effects of the policy lingered for many years, much to the detriment of thousands of suffers and their families—many of whom are still struggling today to deal with a lack of care in our communities.
A few good people decided to do something about it, and this episode features the story of one such person and the incredible impact he made—my own father, Alan Lazarus
“It was called Care in the Community; others called it decanting the mentally ill onto the streets.”
My father was born in 1936 shortly before the beginning of World War II with his upbringing being smack in the middle of it. He was evacuated many times as his father was called up for the Royal Army Medical core. When his father moved around the rest of the family went with him, which was memorable in itself, but he also has vivid recollections of the bombing of London—witnessing war first hand.
Alan qualified as a solicitor at the age of 21—making him, at the time, the youngest to ever qualify for the position. He joined a law practice, William Foux & Co., where he remained for his entire working career. He practiced everything from litigation, crime, conveyancing, commercial law, the whole lot.
A watershed moment in my father’s career, and indeed the life of my whole family, came when my sister Loraine, at 17, became mentally unwell out of the blue. After ruling physical symptoms out, her first official diagnosis was endogenous depression: depression from no known source. This layered with other diagnoses in the years to come, from personality disorder, identity crisis, taking years to come to a correct and final diagnosis: schizophrenia.
This was in the 80’s, when mental health was a taboo to openly discuss—schizophrenia being far on the end of that spectrum. Lorraine, still to this day, experiences thought disorder and hears voices, and has delusions and paranoia which distresses her and can even keep her from sleeping. In the 80’s there wasn’t much offered in terms of treatment. This was something that of course affected the lives of my parents, and set them on a path to ensure that other families with loved ones suffering from schizophrenia and other mental ailments wouldn’t be alone in their struggle.
“We decided there and then to form our own charity, which we called Jami—an acronym for Jewish Association for Mental Illness which has now been going on for over 25 years.”
In the late 80’s my father, mother and another couple wrote an article that appeared in the Jewish Chronicle about schizophrenia, its impact on our families, and the fact that there was nothing in the community to help. They instantly received hundreds of replies—all this in a time without any social media or email to spread such a message.
Late 80’s mental health institutions were closing due to government policy—namely Care in the Community, which put many mentally ill straight on the streets without any support. It is an issue still not fully understood due to so many affected becoming homeless, so many still suffering hardship ever since.
And so my father and mother took the first steps toward building Jami—an organization with the goal of finding a home for the mentally ill, making sure they had day centres to go to, and had access to “befrienders” or people who will meet up with them to form friendships. Nothing is more isolating than mental illness, which strains relationships and can make forming friendships and bonds incredibly hard.
Jami now has over 52 members of staff, 100 plus volunteers, and was able to complete their permanent residence building in 2001 where Lorraine has been living ever since. Jamie helps over 1300 individuals in the community per year through its outreach, day centers, and befrienders. They have been acknowledged for their incredible dedication to mental wellness in the community and have even absorbed other charities that recognized the impact they were having.
It is a lasting legacy that will impact not only London for years to come, but myself as well, and the very podcast you’re listening to. It has been an honor to have my father on this show to help set the tone for the conversations to come. Legacy.