By BRENNA GRITEMAN
A new mental health initiative called S.H.Y.A.A. (pronounced Shy Double A) stands for “Seek Help You Aren’t Alone” and is a very personal triumph for its founder, Zach Ricker.
The 22-year-old Delphos native, now a student at Bowling Green State University, founded the organization after a string of suicides struck the Delphos area starting with that of a 19-year-old female in October 2016. Another five suicides followed through October 2017, none of them drug-related, four of them by young adults in the 18-to 21-year-old age range. Another, older victim was a father, Ricker says.
“That’s when I first came open about what I’ve dealt with and what I’ve been through,” Ricker says, adding in the small town of Delphos he knew of many of those who took their own lives, although none of them personally.
“I’ve dealt with my own depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts most of my life, since I was 14 or 15 I would say.”
The mission of S.H.Y.A.A. is two-fold: to reach area teenagers through personal testimony and to create an online resource where those in pain can easily find ways to get help. While he still has his own rough days, Ricker is committed to helping break the stigma surrounding mental illness and is eager to “kind of to put my hand up and show there is help out there.”
His website is filled with personal stories and blogs by people overcoming a variety of mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Another entry addresses the perils of self-medicating.
“I want the organization to touch all parts of mental health and all ages,” Ricker says.
And despite an intense fear of public speaking, Ricker is committed to talking to middle- and high-schoolers about the realities of mental illness and the many options for treatment. He is often met with enthusiasm and a compassionate ear from teenagers who can easily relate to someone close to their own age and who can appreciate his frankness. Along the way, he’s found that sharing his story provides its own form of therapy.
“It’s kind of my own healing. It’s become something that’s bigger than a fear,” he says of public speaking, adding his very first speaking engagement last August drew over 600 people.
Groups wishing to host Ricker or a representative from S.H.Y.A.A. may contact him through his website or Facebook page, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ricker says as many stereotypes regarding mental illness have been reversed in the past decade or so, a growing trend is to blame mass shootings and other tragedies on the blanket “mental illness,” or to label the perpetrator as “crazy.” This is damaging to the recovery community and to individuals living with mental illness, and creates a stigma that those suffering from mental illness are unsafe, he says. It has also furthered Ricker’s resolve to be an outspoken advocate for change.
“I am capable of being a voice and I am capable of doing something,” he says.