Together service user launches graphic novel documenting inhumanity of asylum life

This week Andrew Voyce, former user of Together’s services, launched his book Side effects at the mental health charity’s Our Space Gallery in London.

The graphic novel charts Andrew’s experience of schizophrenia over the course of 20 years – his journey through psychotic episodes, asylums, medication, encounters with the law and homelessness. Following the closure of the old asylums in 1990, Andrew began receiving support in his local community in Bexhill from Together and other organisations.  It was here he began to document his experiences, finding that assembling a narrative had a positive impact on his mental wellbeing.

What began as a selection of stick drawings on an old second-hand computer grew into a fully developed narrative comprising a set of thirty or more digital cartoons that received over 10,000 hits when published online. With the support of illustrator Øivind Hovland, editor Hannah Cordle and the The Maudsley Charity, which funded the project, Andrew developed his visual autobiography into the book it is today.

A series of key illustrations from Side Effects have been enlarged and mounted by Together and will be exhibited from 28 February to 28 March at the Together Our Space gallery.

Andrew Voyce said: “From the age of 23 to 40 I was a ’revolving door’ patient in the old NHS asylums. Strangely for me – as someone who’s never been a high rate tax payer, let alone had private health insurance or a pension – I have Mrs Thatcher to thank for closing down that pernicious mental hospital regime.

“This allowed me to develop a stable, independent life for myself in my local community where, through the support I got from Together’s services, artists, caregivers and friends, I began the telling of my story. Together supported me to find my flat where I have now been living for seven years. I have become an active member of the service user movement, and have been able to go back to study and get my MA in Social and Public policy.

“Developing a narrative describing my life in the asylums was a powerful therapeutic tool – it has probably been the key factor in my wellbeing.  How could I have ever known that those digital images I started making ten years ago would one day evolve into a book?”

Liz Felton, CEO at Together said:  Andrew is a true inspiration – he has found catharsis through creativity and turned some very harrowing experiences into a powerful piece of work, offering hope to other mental health survivors.

“Side effects brings to light the positive changes made since the traumatic time of the asylums, as well as the stigma associated with mental illness. It also serves to remind us of all that remains to be done to support individuals with mental health issues to live the independent and fulfilling lives they deserve and are capable of.

“We are honored to have met and worked with Andrew and to have played a role in supporting him in his journey to mental wellbeing”.

You can buy a copy of Side effects at Waterstones here  or by emailing SideEffectsBook@yahoo.co.uk.

Illustrations from Side Effects are on display at The Our Space gallery: 12 Old Street, London EC1V, Open Monday – Friday 10.30am – 5pm