From an abusive childhood and a history of psychosis to motivating others to make the change

Raised in a violent household, Joel often sat at the top of the stairs crying while he listened to his alcoholic father beating his mother.  He was soon responsible for looking after his two younger siblings.  The pressure was intense on the young boy and it wasn’t long before he was sniffing glue and drinking to excess. He rebelled, leaving home at 16.  Decades addicted to drugs and alcohol followed, living on the streets and in hostels, experiencing extreme panic attacks, time in custody and periods as an inpatient in psychiatric units. 

 A conversation with his sister was the turning point.  Whilst on a detox programme in a psychiatric unit she said: ‘I don’t want to lose my big bro’.   That was 18 years ago and he has been free of drugs and alcohol ever since.  Formerly, an Expert by Experience, Joel is today an Involvement Champion working on Birmingham Changing Futures Together’s, Every Step of the Way Programme. 

Joel’s story

Joel‘s father was a heavy drinker who used to come home drunk and smash-up the house before beating his wife. A young boy, Joel would sit at the top of the stairs, listening and crying.

While he was still a young boy, Joel’s father left home.  His mother worked 24/7 and Joel was left looking after his young brother and sister, which included doing the cooking, at just 13.  He needed an escape route and it came in the form of a girlfriend, sniffing glue and drinking.

When his mother tried to stop him seeing his girlfriend, Joel rebelled. He ran away a couple of times when he was 15, once for a week.  His mother called the police and Joel got hit by and a lecture from the officer who was at his home when he returned.

Joel left home for good at 16.  His mother had a new partner with whom he didn’t gel.  She spent a lot of time at her partner’s home, leaving Joel to look after his siblings and the house.  He’d had enough and moved out.  He was offered a bed by someone he knew through the Youth Opportunity Programme he was on, but it was a volatile environment.  With the people around him drinking and taking drugs he moved from glue sniffing to harder drugs and got involved in criminal activity.

The drugs consumed me,” explained Joel.  “They were a way to escape reality.

He moved out into lodgings at about 17, which is where he had his first panic attack.  “I thought I was having a heart attack,” he said.  “I called an ambulance and was taken to hospital.  I had convulsions and heard music and voices telling me to break the law.”

Very ill, Joel walked out of hospital in bear feet, convinced his laces were cutting off the blood supply.  He moved to Leamington and ‘went berserk’ when two police officers approached him as he sniffed glue.  He was taken to a psychiatric hospital but discharged himself just a couple of days later.

After a few more incidents he was remanded in custody pending a psychiatric report. He was sectioned and remained in the psychiatric setting for 14-15 months.

Trying to fit into society with mental health problems is a horrible experience,” said Joel.  “People don’t understand; they can be very judgemental.

While in rehab Joel’s body may have had the chance to heal but he started drinking again on the day he left.  He soon took an overdose, needing resuscitation.  Next, was time in a drug-fuelled squat.  He injected amphetamines, funding his addictions with benefits and offending behaviour.  He didn’t eat.  Every penny he had went on drugs and he was in a more or less permanent state of psychosis.

The people he knew at the time exploited him; they stole from him and even took bets on when he would die.  To survive he had to cut all ties, something far easier said than done.  He was in the care of a Community Psychiatric Nurse at the time and asked him for help.  He got him a bed in a psychiatric hospital for a short detox programme.  It was then his sister said ‘I don’t want to lose my big bro’.

It was change or die,” explained Joel.  “My sister gave me the motivation I needed and I have not touched drugs or alcohol since.  I’ve been clean for 18 years and am incredibly proud of my achievement.

I’ve been sectioned twice, lived on the streets and in hostels, spent time in custody and many years drinking and taking drugs.  I’ve learnt to manage my mental health issues but I can never take it for granted.

Changing Futures has given me a lot of support.  I’ve been involved for 18 months and appreciate the feedback I’ve received; it’s helped me develop and has been a positive experience.  As first an Expert by Experience and now an Involvement Champion, I’ve shared my story with others to motivate them and support their development.”

In his role as an Involvement Champion, Joel also offers his feedback to help others understand what is needed to help people with experiences similar to his.

Joel is still in contact with his sister and mother, has a network of positive friends and has returned to his Catholic faith.


Birmingham Changing Futures Together

Birmingham Changing Futures Together is part of an England-wide programme set up by the Big Lottery Fund using money raised by National Lottery players. It improves the effectiveness of service provision to those with multiple and complex needs by bringing together organisations in the sector, identifying and sharing best practice and establishing new approaches.


No Wrong Door Network

At the heart of the Changing Futures approach, the No Wrong Door Network is a group of organisations working together to ensure service users can access a whole system of support through one referral.


Every Step of the Way

Every Step of the Way is delivered by Birmingham MIND and is a service user involvement workstream, and part of the wider programme, Birmingham Changing Futures Together.

The service provides encouragement and enables Experts by Experience to get involved in a range of opportunities within the programme, which in turn contributes to systems change.

A team of Engagement and Development Workers, offer one-to-one time with Experts when working on a Personal Development Impact Plan, which supports their development within the programme.


Beyond the Basics

This post-programme workstream aims to prevent the “falling away” of support services once an individual is deemed well enough to ‘move on’.  The workstream is broken into three phases for each client, moving at a pace that suits them. The first is “Engagement” with the BTB team, second is “Progression and Development” through the workstream, with the third being “Moving Forward” into the wider community.


Contact the Birmingham Changing Futures Together team for more information at

From an abusive childhood and a history of psychosis to motivating others to make the change

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