Mending the Mind: Overcoming Stigma

By KBJR News 1

February 23, 2011 Updated Feb 23, 2011 at 11:02 PM CDT

Superior, WI (Northland's NewsCenter) - Often the stigma associated with mental illness overshadows the pain our children experience. For one Twin Ports teen, his autism isn't his only fight.

18 year-old Tony Presley is a bright teen with limited social skills. Tony was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was seven years old.

"I've always told him it's a gift," his mother, Phyllis Presley said.

Her son's autism isn't the problem. It's everything associated with the spectrum.

"He's depressed, anxiety, problems with emotions. He becomes angry easily with things you don't understand."

"They have to have their routines and if they get out of these routines it could be very difficult for them," said Dan Thies.

Thies is a R.N. with the Teen Partial Hospitalization program at Essentia Health Miller Dwan. Tony is one of several teens the program works with on a regular basis.

"We do see changes over time that are positive," Thies said. "How long they can hold on to these changes sometimes, we don't always get to see."

Experts say often the battle is bigger than just the diagnosed illness. Patients have to wage war with the stigma associated with mental disorders. Something Tony's mother knows all too well.

"I've been in public where I've been called you people." Presley said.

Professionals say it's more common than you may think.

"I do think kids who come to the program and their families think, 'is this embarrassment or fear of what people are going to think?'," said Behavioral Health Tech, Laura Lundin.

"He's just so intelligent but then he's so autistic and that's what is so hard for people to understand," said Presely.

An understanding Tony's mom hopes will change. She says her son has high moral standards and lives in a world in which everything is fair and honest which makes it difficult for him to be in certain social settings.

Written for the web by Kevin Jacobsen