Tuesday, October 10, is World Mental Health Day, an opportunity to speak openly about an important topic that’s relevant to everybody. This is the story of Tim Richens, a Somerset man who ‘hit rock bottom’ after a brain injury but is now helping others face mental health struggles.
Tim is particularly keen to encourage constructive conversation around mental health after he experienced his own struggles following a devastating fall that changed his life.
He had been an accomplished entrepreneur with a successful property business, but his life was suddenly knocked off course one night in February 2013. Tim, now 60, said: “It was a normal evening. I went out and watched some darts and decided to go into town.”
He decided to catch a taxi, and things took an unexpected turn for the worse. As he was getting into the taxi, the driver sped off, and Tim was thrown from the vehicle, landing on his head.
Statistics from Headway’s Every 90 seconds campaign show that every 90 seconds, someone in the UK is admitted to hospital with a brain injury. Unfortunately, that night, Tim became one of those people.
He sustained a severe traumatic brain injury falling from the taxi and, as a result, was put into an induced coma and spent weeks in hospital. At one point, Tim wasn’t expected to survive.
Reflecting on that night Tim said:
In short, it stopped my life as I knew it. I was ‘forced’ to give up my business and the football team I had successfully managed for many years.
“On my journey away from the hospital, I simply imagined picking up life where I had left off, yet the reality turned out to be quite different. I tried to resume my life, but I couldn’t.”
Like many people who have sustained a brain injury, Tim also struggled with his emotions, which he said was quite out of character. Tim remembered that he’d feel angry “much of the time” and lose his temper, but he couldn’t do anything about it.
“I went back to work, but I was so tired all the time,” he said. “After about 12 months of trying to make it through, I gave up work, football and everything I’d ever worked for in my previous 50 years.”
Tim said he felt a strong sense of duty to be his family’s provider and protector but found that suddenly, his family was taking care of him.
“I felt like a burden to them,” he said. “Soon after the accident happened, I began to feel suicidal. I wasn’t scared of dying and thought it would bring me, and everyone else, closure.”
As well as struggling to come to terms with how his life had changed, Tim said he also faced “aggression and patronising behaviour” from some people following his brain injury, especially when parking in an accessible parking space without a visible disability.
Some people also had unrealistic expectations that once Tim’s cuts and bruises had healed, he’d be fine.
But I wasn’t fine and was struggling,” he said. “People still look at me and often think, ‘You’re alright, there’s nothing the matter with you’.
For this reason, Tim said it’s vital that people better understand mental health. “Most people don’t talk about it as it’s a bit of a taboo subject,” he said.
“The word ‘mental’ has connotations that the older generation, in particular, sees as a negative, whereas more people suffer from this type of ‘debilitation’ than most people know.
“Poor mental health is nothing to be embarrassed about and should not carry a stigma. People don’t choose to have mental health issues; it’s not their fault.”
Tim received support with his brain injury from Headway Somerset, and despite the turbulent times he has experienced, ten years on from that fateful night, he has found a way forward.
He’s set up Regain the Brain, where he works as a guest speaker and trainer, addressing subjects including recovery, rehabilitation and life with a brain injury or mental illness.
After a few years of heartache, I realised I had to try to start my life over again. I had a story to tell and wanted to help people affected by brain injury and with their emotional health, particularly men.
"Ironically, you’re often told that brain injury makes you less empathetic, yet I have much more empathy now than I ever did. I now give people the tools to solve their problems and positively change their lives.
I have been truly suicidal, not just crying for attention. Often, I would think how much easier it would have been if I had died that night instead of having a brain injury. But you have to get through it, and now I want to help others,” he said.
“Following the night when my life changed, I have found a different path, allowing me to help others understand brain injury and mental health better, supporting them through their challenges by sharing my own experiences. I know what it’s like to be at rock bottom; the priority now is making people feel better about their lives.
Life ‘ended’ as I knew it, in February 2013, and it took five years or more to recover it, but recover it I did, and if I can, so can anyone. There is hope; you just need to find it.”
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