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From patient to mental health advocate

Monday, December 16, 2019


​When Paul Ruggles was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, his world fell apart. One moment, he was a happy-go-lucky teenager planning for college. The next, he was catapulted into a disease marked by delusions, medications and self-loathing.   

“It was not the prejudice of others that was so devastating and so disabling, it was my own,” Ruggles said. “If I had been told I had diabetes, it would have been so much easier to figure out how to adjust my insulin level and move on.”

Only through working with the Early Assessment and Support Team – now known as the Early Assessment & Support Alliance (EASA) – did Ruggles get the help he needed. That’s when he stopped blaming himself for having an illness he couldn’t control.   

It’s also when he first shared his story with Oregon’s Joint Ways and Means Committee. His testimony, delivered 11 years ago, spurred legislators to give EASA $4.3 million to fund mental health services for teens and young adults.

For Ruggles, that moment cemented his decision to become a mental health advocate.

“I’m focused on doing something with my recovery and making an impact somewhere,” said Ruggles, who is now a member of Oregon State Hospital’s Advisory Board. “There’s a lot that needs to be done.”

Journey to wellness

These days, Ruggles spends his time serving the hospital’s advisory board, which works to ensure OSH policies and procedures support patient care, safety and security.

He also volunteers with the Joseph Phillip Loftus Jr. Mobile Museum in Stayton, Ore., which showcases NASA history and artifacts. Through scheduling and grant writing, he helps the museum bring NASA engineers to Oregon each year to talk with rural school children.

His life is far different today than it was just a few years ago, Ruggles said. Now 30, he had spent much of his adulthood in and out of hospitals for psychiatric treatment. Eventually, he was forced to put his college plans on hold.

Later, when his father and grandfather committed suicide within a year of one another, Ruggles reached his breaking point. That’s when he went through the civil commitment process to become a patient at Oregon State Hospital. He remained there for several months in 2018.

Ruggles said the best part of his time at OSH was his therapy sessions with Clinical Psychologist Katie Davenport. Because of her, he learned how to process his grief and not be so critical of himself.

Davenport, too, said Ruggles made a strong impression with her. She was struck by his drive, insightfulness and intelligence, and said he was committed to his recovery.

“By the time he left, he had developed much more self-awareness for the positive aspects of his personality,” she said. “He understood that change is work, and he was willing to do the work.”

Finding purpose

From this point forward, Ruggles said he plans to make positive decisions for his life – including taking his medications, continuing with counseling, and surrounding himself with people who love and support him.

He’s invested in becoming a peer recovery specialist, so he can use his experiences to inspire others who struggle with mental health challenges. He also wants to work with Oregon State Hospital – and community mental health providers – to ensure people receive the help they need, when they need it.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to be forgotten in the system, but people made a point to reach out and help me with my mental health journey,” he said. “I think I should reach out and try to help others like I was helped.”

 
 
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Paul Ruggles


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