Area teen battles mental health difficulties, dreams of attending college

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Ryan Friedrich, 18, struggles frequently with mental illness, as he continually works at overcoming his Asperger’s, ADHD, anxiety and depression diagnoses. His hopes are to finish high school, graduate college and, someday, become a video game quest designer.

By Correne Martin

“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.”
    -Eleanor Roosevelt

Eighteen-year-old Ryan Friedrich is truly living life one new day at a time. It’s been 19 months since feelings of depression resulted in the Mt. Hope teen jumping from the rooftop at a local high school. Fortunately, he survived.
In recounting his pre-jump state-of-mind shortly afterward, he said he wasn’t sure what purpose he had in life.

These days, Ryan seems to have developed a brighter outlook for his future, as he and his family ponder what his senior year of high school might look like in the fall. Yet, he’s certainly not out of the woods.

Ryan attended classes as a high school junior this past year. One school day, he got into a medicine cabinet where his prescriptions were kept and overdosed, ending up in the emergency room, according to his mom, Heather. Thankfully, he survived that incident as well and has, since, been doing better.

Ryan and his parents, Phil and Heather Friedrich, are contemplating changing course for his senior year. They’re uncertain between enrolling him in GED (general education diploma) or HSED (high school equivalency diploma) classes, or continuing with the traditional high school routine toward graduation. They’re considering open enrollment but simply haven’t decided what may be best-suited for Ryan, who is clinically-diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), along with anxiety and depression.

“Just being around [students and staff] makes me feel too structured, like I have no freedom,” Ryan said.

“But we would like him to get a regular diploma and get something out of his last year of high school,” Heather said.

While his family advocates for Ryan around every corner, he is also involved in nearly every decision concerning his mental health.

Regardless of how he earns a high school diploma, he intends to do so.

But life has been difficult—a nightmare at times—for Ryan and his family. His mom said every decision involves finding the perfect fit for Ryan and the kind of young man he is, not what’s most appropriate for youth his age in general. Determining the best medications, doctors, teachers and support system—especially in rural southwest Wisconsin—has required a lot of time and effort and even trial and error.

“I tried starting (a depression support group), One Voice, but it just didn’t go anywhere,” Heather said. “What we really need is a teen support group.”

The Friedrichs have also run into plenty of barriers in terms of lacking resources in the area and insurance only complicating the matter. There are some specialists in the region, but insurance, travel time and pertinence for Ryan are all factors in whether or not they can fit the mold.

To achieve his high school diploma, Ryan currently focuses on life skills a couple days a week in Lancaster, regularly meets with a pediatric psychiatrist in Madison and behavioral services doctor in Platteville, and visits with his primary nurse practitioner often.

Ryan is also quite artistic and likes to draw in particular. He enjoys walking a plotted path in the family’s back yard and simply being outside. He’s also quick at math, of course revels in video games, and loves WWII history, especially learning about tanks. In his opinion, he’s doing “pretty good” these days.

Ryan desires to finish high school and go to college. Once he gets his general credits in, he hopes to start working toward becoming a video game quest designer.

“I want to write a video game that stands the test of time,” he declared, grinning slightly.

As he pursues his dreams, his parents’ goals are more straightforward, and hopefully, increasingly simpler. They wish to foster his inner strength and continued positive thoughts. They want to keep him healthy, and alive.

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