Mental HEalth – From Victim to Saviour
Jacob Lewis was in care for 15 years. He suffered from agoraphobia, was bullied at school, and has seen the mental health system from both sides. Today, he works and supports people with mental health issues, transforming their lives.
In his younger years Jacob was badly bullied. As a schoolchild he was chased home every night, running to avoid being attacked. He suffered from ADHD, but that wasn’t diagnosed until he was 12.
Home wasn’t a great deal better for him as his father suffered from alcoholism. Some days dad would be sober, others not.
By the time he left school, Jacob had discovered drink himself, running into £6,000 of debt. He’d stopped taking his medication, fallen out with his dad and frequently argued with his sister. He had to leave home, moving into medium support housing in Exeter, where he was attacked by a resident high on drugs.
Desperate to leave, Jacob lied about his mental state and moved into low support accommodation where he became nocturnal, comfort eating, playing World of Warcraft up to 18 hours a day, chain smoking. He was going off the rails, fast.
Then, he discovered that his father had terminal cancer. Jacob didn’t take it well and had to be moved into high support housing with staff on hand eight hours a day. His weight ballooned to 33 stone. He became agoraphobic.
Following his father’s death, Jacob was determined to turn things round. He underwent sleeve gastrectomy and over the next three years lost 17 stone, supported by his mother. His confidence blossomed and he started to believe in himself.
Returning to shared accommodation, Jacob was desperate for a place of his own, especially as he’d met his wife to be. With support, he got on the council’s B-Band housing list, and in February 2017 moved into a new apartment.
He knew he needed full-time work to get off benefits and so looked for a job where he could give something back, drawing him to the care sector.
Despite loving what he did, he found himself working 70-80 hour weeks. It was then that he met Marie Tolly, founder of Independent Living West Country. The two got on instantly.
Unlike his previous role, where staff had just 30 minutes to help clients, Independent Living West Country took a very different approach. Here, he had up to 3-4 hours per day per client, supporting them as they contended acute mental health conditions in their own homes. Here, the emphasis was firmly on clients’ mental wellbeing, providing a package of support tailored to their individual needs.
However, it soon became apparent that Jacob’s greatest skill lay in helping clients obtain the welfare benefits that they were not only eligible for, but badly in need of. So, Jacob took charge of assisting clients with their Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and benefits, recovering thousands of pounds in owed back-payments in many cases.
“Those with the most acute needs can wait months if they fill out the forms poorly,” says Jacob. “We help avoid that by assisting with the process, explaining why support is necessary, covering off the individual’s back-story so that they can access benefits that they desperately need.
“Too many are left floundering, scared by the process and unable fill out PIP forms. We make sure that’s not the case, securing benefits that are a vital part of our clients’ road to recovery and journey towards greater independence,” says Jacob. “I’m incredibly proud to help people that could so easily have been me.”
To find out more about how Independent Living West Country could be helping you, a member of your family, or a client suffering from a mental health condition, visit https://www.independentlivingsw.co.uk/ or call 01392 467 007