An interview with Recovery Radio’s Johna Johnson about his story.
- I’m a volunteer for Arch and have been for two years, and I am a co-facilitator at Unity.
- I have been around services for over 30 years on and off mainly for mental health issues.
- I have clashed with services at times, yet I still remain positive about what they have to offer.
- My favourite band is Adam and the Ants in the years 1977-79, before they turned to pop.
“I am most inspired by anyone who has come through
Who do you most admire in the sector?
There are lots of good people working in this field and there are also a lot of people I have never met, so I don’t like choosing really. I worked closely with Rebecca Brannigan, Paul Leach, Donna Howarth, and Moira Freeman – but I am most inspired by anyone who has come through recovery themselves.
What would you say triggered your drug use?
I have only recently started accessing therapy so that may uncover why my mental health issues started. I was attacked at a football match in 1986, which resulted in me being stabbed 4 times, having bricks dropped on my head, and being hit with planks of wood. A friend was also killed at Spurs in 1980, and I have seen people hit with hammers and get slashed across the face with knives. I wasn’t affected by these incidents, but some professionals think they may be the reason I started getting panic attacks and bouts of depression. I didn’t know why this was happening to me because I didn’t have access to any professional services to help me understand. I was subsequently attacked on two further occasions in a ten year period and I dealt with this by self medicating for years. I felt the mental health issues precipitated my drug use.
“I didn’t know why this was happening to me because I didn’t have access to any professional services to help me understand.”
Did you try to battle your mental health issues before you began to recover?
I was determined to not let it rule my life and I studied, resulting in me getting a Diploma and HND in Leisure Studies, and a HNC and Access in Art and Design. Unfortunately I could never properly overcome my mental health issues, and I couldn’t access the therapeutic services I needed to overcome them until recently.
When did drugs become part of your life?
I started taking recreational drugs in 1977 and continued until 2012. In my early life they were enjoyable, but after 1986 I used them to cope with my mental health issues. I also drank heavily from 1986 ‘til 2012 trying to cope with my mental health.
When did you start your recovery?
I started my recovery in 2005. I’d had enough, I wanted my life back. I had lost 30 years to poor mental health and I decided I was going to deal with my issues properly. I started to reduce my drinking, which wasn’t easy, and it took some time to get it down to a manageable level. I stopped completely in 2012. My drug use became intermittent, then that stopped altogether in 2012. I also gave up smoking in 2013.
How did you find recovery?
I found recovery a frustrating and painful journey because I found it difficult to access services, particularly mental health services. They’re even harder to access these days. I have finally started a therapeutic course after 30 years – I struggled to understand why I couldn’t get access before. The more I became involved in services the more frustrated I became that there seemed to be insufficient communication between services in different fields. I have been advocating for a central hub since 2005, when I started to attend the Bridge Project.
“I’d had enough, I wanted my life back.”
What do you mean by central hub?
One building where you could go whatever your issues, rather than having loads of properties dotted around the city. All the services would be under one roof, or be able to signpost you to where you needed to be. It would streamline the service and make it easier to access but hopefully it would also be cost effective in terms of rent payments, meaning more money could be spent improving the quality of care.
What issues do you see in the current systems and services?
The drawback I saw was that agencies find it difficult to get funding to carry on. Getting funding is a 6 month to a year process, which is then detrimental to the job they are trying to do because they never know how long their job is for. How can you offer a sustainable service when you don’t know how long the service will be there for? This then affects communication and cooperation between rival services, which is counter-productive. Trying to bring stability into people’s lives with an unstable industry hampers what you’re trying to do. I also found it frustrating that services became time limited. I’ve had to leave organisations when I wasn’t ready to because of time limits. Recovery is a lot more complicated than just saying here’s 6 months, if you’re not well enough go away and come back. This might look good on statistics but it doesn’t tell the true story.
“Trying to bring stability into people’s lives with an unstable industry hampers what you’re trying to do.”
Johna Johnson was also interviewed about the radio show he co-hosts with Dominic Maddocks, Recovery Radio, which can be accessed at