Brandon Ollerdisse didn't know how much he liked reading the Bible until it was all he had.
“That started in jail,” Ollerdisse said. “I didn't have nobody. I didn't want nobody neither. I didn't even like calling. So I just picked up something and started reading and working out. That's all I had to do.”
At 14, Ollerdisse was kicked out of high school for fighting. Soon after, a family member asked him to sell drugs. He was about to have a niece, and the family needed money.
Ollerdisse has been to jail, seen friends go to prison, run drug deals and been in a gang. And somehow, he got some help.
Statistics show that many children with a mental health condition don't get help, and the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., has brought the conversation of mental health to the national forefront.
One in 10 children has a mental health condition that causes significant impairment and more than half of all lifetime cases begin by age 14, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
This means that, of the 930,000 children in Oklahoma, 93,000 children have some type of mental health condition.
Meanwhile, at least 40 percent of youths in Oklahoma who need mental health services don't receive them.
Ollerdisse, 18, is one of the 24 young adults, ages 16 to 24, participating in Youth Transitions at NorthCare in Oklahoma City.
NorthCare is certified as a community mental health and substance abuse service agency that provides services to consumers regardless of their ability to pay.
The center's transitional program helps teenagers and young adults who have shown symptoms of mental health conditions gain independence and learn life skills.
Ollerdisse suffers from insomnia, built-up anger and panic attacks.
Attending the program was part of Ollerdisse's court order after he was arrested on assault charges. But the program itself is voluntary, and Ollerdisse did not have to stay in the program if he didn't want to.
NorthCare staff members have weekly sessions with each of the 24 young people in Youth Transitions. There's a life team built around each participant, and they all make a goal or vision for themselves.
Ollerdisse's goal was to complete his probation requirements. While in the program, he did that in six months.
“Completing probation in six months is an accomplishment in and of itself, that means you really, really worked that probation plan,” said LaCinda Daugherty, a project director at NorthCare. “Not all young men and women can complete it that quickly.”
Ramona Ollerdisse is thankful her son chose to stay in Youth Transitions. Earlier this year, she worried he was on the fast track to prison. This is the case for many teenagers like Brandon.
About 65 percent of boys and 75 percent of girls in juvenile detention have at least one mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Ramona Ollerdisse would like to see the program expanded to help more kids like her son. With Christmas quickly approaching, many residents have or will donate money to a list of worthy causes.
“That's once a year,” she said. “Let's donate for some places like this to help these kids so they don't wind up dead or where their parents never see (them) again or out on the street, dealing drugs at a young age or doing drugs and overdosing. I've seen too much, and I don't want to see it any more, and I definitely don't want to see it with my son.”
Ollerdisse went to Edmond North High School for three days his freshman year before getting kicked out for fighting. He never went back.
About 50 percent of students age 14 and older who are living with a mental illness drop out of high school. This is the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
Ollerdisse is working on his GED and might go to trade school after he finishes. He isn't sure what he wants to do.
At 18, many young adults with mental health conditions are left out on their own, said Sarah Rahhal, clinical director at NorthCare.
Parents and caregivers should work to meet the needs of this age group, rather than be dismissive of what might be going on, she said.
“It's such a vulnerable time in anybody's life, much less somebody with a mental health disorder,” she said. “ ... For young adults with mental health issues, it amplifies that vulnerable time period.”
Vallery Brown, Staff Writer