This is a first-hand account of someone experiencing crisis. Luminate facilitator and accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Ryan Ridgway, has very kindly shared his story with us - to help raise awareness, and increase understanding of what this experience is like and how Mental Health First Aid can act as an intervention.
Ryan has struggled with distressing compulsive thoughts from a young age and uses his lived experience to educate others on mental health. He is extremely passionate about Mental Health First Aid and has – so far – facilitated 168 MHFA courses, training up 1859 First Aiders and counting!
Please note that this story may be distressing to read if you have lost someone to suicide or if you, or someone you care about, is currently experiencing, or has experienced suicidal ideation – please take care of yourself and consider whether now is the right time for you to read it.
Mental Health First Aid played a key role in saving my life.
You would assume – with me working in mental health support – that I had all the answers. That I would be able to avoid crisis at the hands of my mental illness. But, sadly, this is not my reality.
I became really unwell 1% at a time. My mental illness (OCD) took hold over days and weeks, creeping in through the back door.
Eventually, I had to be sectioned due to suicidal crisis and psychosis, and if the MHFA in my life hadn’t acted I would not be here today writing this blog. Something I’m grateful for each and every day.
Firstly, I have an illness. And like any other illness, it’s something I’m able to influence but not something I always have complete control of.
For example, a person who’s bleeding cannot ‘just stop,’ but wounds can be treated, support provided, and conditions created that give the leg the very best chance of healing. Similar to this, I can (and do) create the right conditions to support my own mental health but there are times when I need extra support, some more formal treatment, and – on this occasion – a lifesaving intervention.
In those moments gradually leading to crisis, my own head became my enemy. I know all too well that, when struggling with your mental health, reaching out and talking is absolutely fine, and, oftentimes, necessary. However, my internal dialogue was saying “You work in mental health; don’t tell anyone you’re struggling. They’ll think you can’t do your job!”
A Mental Health First Aider in my life was able to notice the signs of change in me, physically, behaviorally, the way I spoke, the things I said – those little subtle signs that make the hairs on your neck stand up and suggest ‘something doesn’t seem right for this person.’
Mental Health First Aid teaches you how to reach out: where, when, and how to start that conversation. She attempted to engage me many times, asking how I was feeling and what was going on for me. However, my guard was firmly up, the mask on, hiding my true inner self. I rejected her help and used a line I’m sure we all have: “I’m fine!”
She (and I’m referring to my partner, Jamie) was patient, persistent and creative with how she reached out. Until one day she found the right opportunity to ask me clearly and directly if I was feeling suicidal.
I couldn’t hold it in any longer, I was exhausted and defeated. And the tears just started falling, along with my guard.
Jamie was supportive, asked lots of open questions, getting me to share what was in my head. She didn’t act shocked, try to ‘fix’ things, or force me to do anything I didn’t want to do. That kind conversation - creating a safe space for me to unravel thoughts, feelings, and emotions without judgement - was pivotal in getting me the help I so badly needed.
Following this, a crisis plan was put in place for me. This was simply a document held in my phone. It was direction and guidance on what I should do and who I should call if I ever felt this way again.
On the morning that I was really unwell (sometime after my talk with Jamie) and unable to understand what I was experiencing, I referred to the crisis plan and called a crisis nurse for help. She dispatched an ambulance immediately which led to me being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
I qualified Jamie and her salon team in Mental Health First Aid way back when – how lucky was that! I didn’t expect she would be using it to save my life. This is why I believe EVERYONE deserves to have a Mental Health First Aider in their world, it should be compulsory in workplaces, clubs, and community spaces like physical First Aid.
I continue to teach this important qualification today, totaling now almost 2000 people qualified. My heart and soul goes into each and every training session, as I could be teaching someone who goes on to save a life, as mine was saved.
To all of the current MHFA family and those who are yet to embark on their journey, you have my upmost admiration and respect. I salute you and the world needs more of you.
If you are worried about yourself or someone you know, we encourage you to broach the conversation and please do take a look at our crisis resources page, which includes free helplines and services to help support your mental health.