“When the darkness comes over me, talking to someone can help.”

Mark visits Jami’s Head Room Café at least three times a week because he likes “the aura”. “Coming here is like a holiday,” he says. “The staff are so lovely. I want to engage with people who understand me,” he explains. “And they do.” Café manager, Andrea, brings Mark a plate full of food because he often forgets to eat. “I only have one meal a day,” he admits. “But I love cakes,” he says smiling. Mark doesn’t have a big appetite, so Andrea keeps checking on him, gently reminding him to take a mouthful every now and again. The care and compassion she shows Mark and other Head Room regulars is clear to see.

It’s also one of the reasons why Mark travels 1.5 hours every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and sometimes Fridays, to this specific café. The other reasons are to take part in the weekly programme of events and to be around like-minded people.

“Head Room gives me somewhere to go each day. There’s always someone to lean on. And I can be myself here,” he explains.

But being Mark isn’t easy. The scars left by years of bullying, which started in nursery and continued until he left school at 16, haven’t faded at all. “It was hard to talk about the bullying with anyone,” he says. “It made me quieter and more withdrawn. I felt imprisoned in my own body. I didn’t have the confidence to do things and I never went out. It was horrible.”

Then, a violent assault during a burglary, several years ago, left him in a coma and led to him having frequent seizures. He says: “My seizures can happen any time but loneliness affects me the most. I hate the weekends because I can’t come to the café and that’s when I feel really isolated. I’ve had mental health problems all my life but the accident made it worse. I just want to be like other people.”

Mark enjoys company. “When I come to the café, I say hello to everyone,” he says. He also joins the conversation and walking groups, and takes part in Creativity4All, Head Room Café’s twice-weekly art and writing session, with an emphasis on connection, peer support and process.

“I do art to bring a bit of sunshine into my life,” he says. “I also love art galleries and I like to write.”

On Wednesdays, Mark goes to Jami’s community hub in Redbridge, where he receives support from one of our occupational therapists and the opportunity to engage with people who also have long-term mental health problems. “It’s nice just being with people who understand what you’re going through,” he says. “When you feel low, you need someone to pick you up. You need nice people around you.” But whether Mark is mingling at the hub or connecting in mutually supportive ways at our café, he says: “Jami provides people who listen and places to go. Without Jami, I’d be lost.”