I met my friend Annie several years ago whilst we were both attending a self-help support group for people trying to get and stay clean from drugs and alcohol. Annie suffers from MS, which was diagnosed in her late twenties although she had struggled with debilitating symptoms for many years. In early 2014 and already clean from heroin, Annie detoxed off both Subutex (a medication used for the treatment of opiate dependency) and the Valium that had originally been prescribed to her for her MS symptoms. Following this detox, she entered a rehabilitation facility. Annie had previously detoxed off alcohol with success, however this second detox triggered psychotic symptoms and after entering the rehab she was asked to leave after a couple of days. In her psychotic state she drank on the train. This alcohol relapse ultimately led to her use of heroin and crack again. In the months that followed, Annie attempted suicide on three occasions before being sectioned at the inpatient psychiatric unit in Callington Rd. On release she often stayed with her partner since she found it too difficult to be in her flat on her own for any length of time. Annie's partner suffers from Trigeminal Neuralgia (an intensely painful facial condition which has been described as one of the most painful known to man) and frequently experiences attacks that can be hours in length with bouts lasting for several weeks. In this state it was difficult for him to be Annie's carer, but he tried his best to do so. In the months that followed whilst photographing Annie, I personally witnessed the many struggles that she, her family and her partner experienced whilst she was living out in the community. Annie tried several more times to kill herself during the following months, which was traumatic for both her and those around her. She also went through periods of time where she would stop taking or abuse the medication that she had been prescribed by the community mental health team. I photographed Annie between March and August 2014, and witnessed her drug and alcohol use escalate during that time, along with her attempts and subsequent failures to stop. I also met her friend Ella who died several months later of a drugs overdose, and Terry who's efforts to detox in Annie's flat only culminated in both their drug habits increasing. Finally at the beginning of 2015, Annie returned to the ACER Unit to attempt another detox, only to be sectioned again shortly afterwards and eventually moved to a higher security unit where her mental health is still being assessed.
Through knowing Annie, I have experienced first hand some of the difficulties faced by someone who is struggling with both addiction and underlying mental health issues, including how difficult it currently is to access mental health services. I hope that this photo essay can go some way towards reflecting what I have seen.
(Selected images only)