Wisconsin program helps those facing a life impacted by mental illness

MILWAUKEE -- It's been said that there is a mental health crisis in America. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four adults will experience mental illness in a given year. There is a local network of support for those whom many thought were beyond reach.

Tiodolo DelaGarza III is well thought of  around the Career Youth Development Incorporated hallways -- better known as CYD. Those who know his story stop him, to tell him he has great things coming in his life.

Tiodolo is one of their success stories. However he didn't always feel the support he has now due to a history of criminal activities and drug addiction.

\"I know what it's like to be rejected,\" Tiodolo shared about his experiences. \"I know what it's like to be neglected. I know what it's like to have a background and be judged based off those [criminal] convictions.

\"I know what it's like to have challenges and be ... overlooked -- rather than valued or seen as someone just as important as the next person.\"

As a young boy, growing up on Milwaukee's Southside, Tiodolo lived in an environment of physical and sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction and crime.

\"Being raised in a dysfunctional family, being involved with gangs, drugs alcohol; more like the kid that nobody wanted to be around,\" Tiodolo confessed.

He would eventually drop out of school. According to NAMI, 20 percent of young people, ages 13 to 18, experience severe mental disorders in a given year. By the age of 14 Tiodolo had already been in and out of the criminal court system.

He found himself faced with a new hurdle when he was also diagnosed with clinical depression. Tiodolo didn't know what to make of that, so he continued a pattern of self medicating with anything he could find. That included marijuana, cocaine, crack, ecstacy, acid and psychadelic mushrooms.

Drugs and alcohol were plentiful, and easy to find. But eventually, while serving time in prison, he decided to make a change in preparation of his release back into society. He earned his diploma and set out to find help. He turned to programs that are part of the WISE network -- an organization dedicated to helping those affected by mental illness.

\"I began to surround myself with faith-based and supportive networks in the community,\" said Tiodolo. \"I looked for mentors, people who believed in me because I didn't believe in myself. Nor did I know how to love myself.\"

That's how Tiodolo came to know his life today, one in which he is now a college student and working to become a fulltime drug and alcohol counselor. WISE helped him find the support he needed. Sue McKenzie is the co-director for Rogers InHealth and WISE. She points to his story as an example.

\"Tiodolo demonstrated his ability to make those wise choices when they were offered to him, and discovering his own internal strength,\" said McKenzie. \"That's the message of how we reduce stigma, is to get to know people like Tiodolo.\"

When asked where he might be, if not for the help he received, Tiodolo was hard pressed to offer an answer.

\"I don't know exactly,\" he responded cautiously. I don't know. I don't know where I would be, to be honest with you.\"

The fear of what might have been speaks to the importance of the work WISE is doing.

\"The message is critical,\" McKenzie declared. \"And if we're all speaking with one voice, we might be able to affect change in our lifetime.\"

Thanks to that voice, Tiodolo will not have to worry about going it alone in the future. He is taking it even further, now channeling the faith others have put into him to benefit others.

\"A lot of the bad things that I went through, to be able to be a vessel or be a string to help somebody elese out, I beleived the mentors that I've been around,\" Tiodolo shared. \"They've instilled hope into my life. So I'm instilling hope into others.\"

With the support it has provided so many like Tiodolo, there is no question WISE is making Milwaukee great.

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