Ritchie Howarth was a well-known cricketer in the Holme Valley … but then hardly set foot outside his home for seven years.

The 55-year-old builder was struck down by a crippling mental illness that saw him spending years in his Holmbridge house, hiding away from the world. He tried to take his own life three times.

He’s now made an amazing recovery and is setting up a men’s mental health group in Holmfirth to help others going through the same challenges.

It’s called Holmfirth Man’s Club and will meet on the first Tuesday of every month from 7pm to 9pm at Ribbles Café on Hollowgate in the centre of Holmfirth, starting on Tuesday, May 2. Men are encouraged to just turn up on the night.

Ritchie’s close friend, Yorkshire and England cricketer Matthew Wood, and neighbour, Olympic triple gold medal cycling legend Ed Clancy, are helping him to promote it.

In a frank interview Ritchie has talked about his seven years of hell.

He had a great cricketing career as a bowler spanning 20 years at Honley with spells also at Holmfirth, Thongsbridge, Scholes and Holmbridge.

Ritchie worked as a builder and manager for Holmfirth company R A Berry and Son for 35 years.

He’d never suffered from mental illness in his life but began to take strong painkillers for a chronic hip problem.

Seven years ago he felt he started to change as a person and his life quickly crumbled.

“For seven years I was in a very dark place indeed,” said Ritchie. “I didn’t leave the house, see anyone or do anything.

“My sudden deterioration into a chronic mental health crisis was a total shock to all my family and friends. There was no indication of it before – it just came out of the blue.

“It seemed to start with night sweats and I’d wake up at 2am covered in perspiration. Then, when I was at work, I felt I needed to be at home and couldn’t wait to get back to the house where I felt safe and that’s when I first realised something was happening to me, something was wrong.

“I just spent the years lying down the whole day, not wanting to be in this world or even awake, not wanting to be part of real life or even exist.”

It seems Ritchie had started with depression which then spiralled into severe anxiety and psychosis and he has spent time in psychiatric hospitals.

A change came last December shortly before Christmas after Ritchie ditched all his medication.

He woke up one morning and felt he just had to have a shower.

“It was a turning point,” he said. “The next day I did a bit more, then a bit more the day after that. I’ve slowly built on that so now I feel fine again and I’m back out in the world.

“I won’t return to the building trade. I now want to work in mental health, helping people who are going through what I’ve been through.”

Ritchie said that a few years ago he sought support at Andy’s Man Club in Halifax, set up to help men struggling with their mental health.

He admits: “I went twice but simply couldn’t summon up the courage to go through the door so went home again. I finally did attend for a while and saw how it can be so positive. That’s why I want to create something similar in the Holme Valley.

“Stepping through that door for the first time is so important which is why Holmfirth Man’s Club will be so welcoming. It’s a chance for men to talk together about their problems and tell their stories.”

Ritchie is incredibly grateful to his family who have been so supportive over the years, including mum Sheila Tinker, son Bailey, 20, daughter Rene, 10 and step-daughter Maddison, 28.

“I wouldn’t be alive without them,” he said.

About three years ago Bailey and Maddy launched a fundraising appeal so Ritchie could be seen by a private psychiatrist after he had been discharged from NHS mental consultant care. The appeal brought in more than £10,000.

Ritchie is also very grateful for the support he’s getting now from friends.

“I’m so thankful to Matthew Wood and Ed Clancy for helping me to promote Holmfirth Man’s Club,” he said. “They have both been involved in top class sport and know the mental strain it puts people under.”

Ed said on Twitter: “Some time ago a man turned up to my home and said ‘you won’t know who I am even though I live just down the road because I haven’t been outside for the last seven years.’

“I’m pleased to say Ritchie Howarth has turned a corner and is now on a mission to help others. He’s already been contacted by dozens in the local area.

“Happy to show my support for this project as too often you don’t see the warning signs.”

Ritchie added: “I just hope Holmfirth Man’s Club becomes a great success and a vital support to men in this area. The power of it will be in men sharing what they are going through and realise they are not the only ones suffering with their mental health.

“Together we will talk and together we will be stronger. I came close to taking my own life three times and if this club saves just one life then it will be more than worth it.”

  • Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting.