Ryan Cook was first diagnosed with mental illness as a teen. Grappling with a history of panic attacks and a failed suicide attempt, the Waterbury, Connecticut 35-year-old says he battles depression and anxiety to this day. Wanting to challenge stereotypes about mental health issues and more efficiently connect others with resources, Ryan became a mental health advocate.
Founding The Hope Corner in 2017, Ryan’s mission is to advocate, educate and provide tools to help those with mental health issues receive quality services in Connecticut. His advocacy means that others have the opportunity to be connected to better resources, after Ryan personally struggled to obtain comprehensive services when first diagnosed. In addition, Ryan is serving as an example that those with mental illness can work through adversity to reach success. The Hope Corner has thus far reached over 1,000 individuals as the organization works to improve mental health services, promote recovery, educate the community about the importance of mental wellness, and combat discrimination about mental health.
What inspires you to volunteer?
At a young age, I witnessed the benefits of service to others from my grandparents and my mom. To this day, I still hold the values they taught me about the importance of making the world a better place. I truly believe that inside of us all there is the ability to be of service to others and to be a beacon of hope in our society.
Your volunteerism is personal for you. Explain.
When I went through my first panic attack, I felt that I was alone in what I was dealing with. There are so many people going through the same situations as I have and continue to, and I feel that it’s important to serve them so that they don’t feel alone.
Describe your role with The Hope Corner.
As founder of The Hope Corner and current director, I connect individuals to resources, offer education and improve awareness of the importance of mental wellness, and combat mental health discrimination. In addition, our organization offers some services and programs to individuals in our area, including guidance on meditation and mindful techniques. We are currently working to incorporate mental health into health curriculum in schools across Connecticut.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
The first time I helped someone de-escalate a panic attack was meaningful to me. I was with the person when they started to hyperventilate and sweat. Having been through a panic attack myself and recognizing the symptoms, I immediately used tactics to help them. I talked to the person peacefully, and suggested they visualize their favorite place. Being able to help someone makes everything worthwhile.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
Knowing that my volunteerism has helped at least one person. Service has truly made a difference in my life, but I am also making a difference in their lives. We have the ability and responsibility to make our world a more hopeful, stable and peaceful place. If you can make a difference in one person’s life, you have changed the world.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
Volunteering is giving the greatest gift, which is part of you. It’s the chance to make the world a greater place. I strongly believe we can be a greater people if we choose to be. Being able to volunteer is something beyond you, I or me. It’s a we.
How can readers help?
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Ryan? Find local volunteer opportunities.