In kindergarten, I was placed on Ritalin when I was six years old, When I was eight they told me I had learning disabilities. School has always been very hard for me. Most of the time that I was in school kids always teased and picked on me. They would call me names and would do bad things to me. I would tell my teachers and the school counselors about it and because they never saw the kids do anything to me they would tell me things like: “I was making a big deal out of nothing, it didn’t happen like that, or I was hearing things.” They never would believe me and always took the other kids side.
I would bottle all my anger up inside until I got home. Some days I cried, other days I was so angry I would destroy things, hurt myself or my family. My mom and dad did not know what to do. Mom cried a lot. She would call the school and they told her I never acted this way at school, something must be wrong at home. I should call the doctor and ask to increase my medications. One time I was on so much medication that I had a seizure in school and had to go to the hospital.
By the time I was in the sixth grade I had been on at least 20 different medications and had seen at least 10 different doctors and lots of counselors and other people too. No one ever asked me how I felt or if any of it was helping. I was tired of all the teasing and medications. I felt awful. This was the first time I tried to kill myself by trying to hang myself from a tree in my front yard. Luckily, mom found me and got me down.
Of course, I ended up in the hospital with a new doctor, counselor and medications. I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Things got better for a while until I went back to school. The kids kept teasing me and I soon became their personal punching bag. They put me inside a locker, destroyed my bike and homework and ganged up on me. The teachers and principal never punished them. They told me that I CHOOSE to act this way and if I CHOOSE to act this way, then I deserved the treatment I got. They would tell me it was “kids being kids”: - they were just kidding around. I should be more independent and work it out for myself. So I decided run away or hide in the school.
The school didn’t know what to do. They wanted me on more medications and to see more doctors. My mom and dad were fed up and placed me in a private school. It was while I was in school there I started finding the support systems I needed.
I know you want to know what has helped me. Now, I have seen lots of doctors, counselors and taken lots of medications, but what has helped me the most was finding my faith in God again. God is with me always and he loves me no matter what. That is very important to me. I still have good and bad days, but not as bad anymore because God is with me and he gives me strength. It makes me feel so much better. God has definitely been the best medication for me.
It has also helped me to find professionals who understand about my illness and are willing to listen to me. They understand that I don’t CHOOSE to be this way and let me be involved in decisions about my medications, therapy, schoolwork and treatments.
Also, it has been important for me to be part of a National Youth Group that talks about Mental Health issues to others. I have been able to travel to different conferences and speak to others about my illness and share my story. I found other kids who have problems just like me. I finally felt like I belonged and now have some friends who understand what it is like to have a mental illness. That is why I helped to start YES (Youth Encouraging Support) so that other youth have a place to go locally to support each other.
If you ask me what needs to be changed, I believe that professionals, especially teachers need to be better trained. They need to understand that medications do help, but they don’t cure us and we will still have problems. Teachers need to stop letting kids tease and bully other kids. They should also not be allowed to tell a doctor what medications we should be on. Professionals should listen to us and what kind of treatment we want or need. We should be treated as individuals and not as a group or disorder. Each of us is different and our treatments should be different. Please remember to some of us that our faith is very important and what a powerful tool it is for us to get better! We as youth should also be allowed to have youth programs so that we may gather to support each other and learn to have a more active voice in our systems of care. We need to have more youth representation when speaking about mental health issues.
People need to listen to what we as youth need and want. They need not to label us as “bad kids” or that we CHOOSE to act this way. I want everyone to know that medication have helped me, but there are other things that have helped me so much more. I want everyone to listen to me. I DO have a mental illness and I DO want to get better, but most of all I WANT to be treated like everyone else! I know that with the help of God, I WILL!
Notes from Brandon’s parent: this speech presentation was made by Brandon at the Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Children’s Mental Health. November 6, 2001 - Atlanta, Georgia.
About the Author
My name is Brandon and I am 15 years old. I live outside a small town in Nebraska named Shelton. I am a freshman in High School. I have been diagnosed with ADHD learning disabilities, bi-polar and anxiety disorders.