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AFH Spotlight

Community Hero Spotlight: Never Ride Alone

Highlighting the work of Richard Lima and his work in the mental health space.

By Rachel Chao, MSSW/MPH, MT-BC AFH Advocacy & Education Consultant

Richard Lima, an endurance athlete and long-distance cyclist, has always appreciated a challenge. But when he talks about biking across the country to raise awareness of mental health in America on his “Never Ride Alone” trip, he doesn’t mention the challenge of the record-breaking heat and drought. He doesn’t talk about the mosquitos that followed him on the road, or the sweltering humidity. He reflects about the stories, the conversation and the humans that he met while biking over 4500 miles. 

On June 4, 2022, Lima started biking in North Carolina on his “Never Ride Alone” journey. He brought with him a tent, food and supplies – and above all else, a desire to bring awareness to the prevalence of suicide and mental illness. After losing a loved one to suicide in early 2022, he felt moved to action. He began to learn more about mental health in America, and became increasingly motivated to start conversations around the stigma of mental illness.

I couldn’t sit and wait,” he said. “I’m gonna take the loss, and I’m gonna go out there, and let people know that they matter.

Richard Lima

His journey across the country following the Trans America Trail was supposed to raise awareness. What Richard didn’t expect was to bear witness to the environment of mental health in America. He explains how people at rest stops and camp sites would ask him where he was biking. Once he shared his reason for the cross-country trip, others would immediately open up.

They shared their own stories, and the stories of people they’ve lost: the woman in Missouri who shared her suicide attempt with him one evening, the couple in St. Louis who lost their son to suicide and expressed their gratitude for others speaking up about their own unbelievable losses, the man in Kansas who opened up about his own depression and suicidality.

He shares their stories with reverence and with gratitude that others are willing to talk about their own mental health with him. “Never Ride Alone” became more than the name of the trip, it became true for how he felt on his journey.

As others shared their stories with Lima, together they shared the disbelief of how common these stories are. “I had no idea just how prevalent suicide really is. It blew my mind. I knew the numbers of mental illness and suicide, but I just didn’t know how it was a part of so many folk’s stories.” Through his journey he was an eyewitness to the struggles that people faced in accessing and receiving adequate mental health support. He talked to folks in rural, isolated communities he biked through who shared how difficult it was for them to access support. He talked to men at restaurants and camp sites who shared how they felt a pressure to toughen up, to “be a man,” and deal with their mental illness privately.

The importance of this ride kicked in when I started hearing people’s stories. What I really took away from this is that mental illness is so prevalent, and most people don’t understand how common it really is.

Richard Lima

Donations for his ride benefitted several chapters of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). “What spoke to me about his story was his passion for wanting to see change, his passion for wanting to connect with others who are passionate about mental health,” said Heather Richardson, of NAMI St. Louis. “To connect with so many other people who have been touched by mental health… It opens the door for people who are scared or feel judged by social stigmas to seek support.” 

When we examine the current stats of mental illness in America (1 in 20 adults experience serious mental illness, and suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for teens and young adults), it can be easy to forget the stories of the people who are represented in them. It can be easy to generalize about mental illness, or depend upon stigma and stereotype to inform what we think we know about suicide.

But Lima’s ride sought to bring the stories back to the numbers- to destigmatize experiences of thousands of Americans. Most importantly, he rode to remind others that they can make a difference by starting conversations around mental health, too. 

Step by step, pedal by pedal, story by story. Whether by biking, opening up, or taking time to examine the stigmas that exist, Lima hopes that people become motivated to know that they can make a difference by starting a conversation about mental health in their own community.

“Looking back, it’s the people I remember,” he said, “Meeting such kind people, and hearing such sad stories of loss. It runs the gamut from beginning to end of the emotional, incredible moments of meeting people.”

Richard Lima, of Never Ride Alone, will continue his long-distance biking to raise awareness of the prevalence of mental illness and suicide in November, biking across the Route 66 trail. If you’re interested in continuing to follow his advocacy and awareness efforts, you can find more information on the Never Ride Alone website, or by connecting on Instagram (@NeverRideAloneUSA or @RichardLima1).