For many kids, substance abuse and addiction at an early age is just part of a much bigger picture.  For one young person, James*, understanding his family’s history with mental health issues is the key to his future success in staying clean and living up to his fullest potential.

At the young age of 11, James found himself in the municipal court system for a theft charge.  He was also one of the highest risk youth that YouthZone has encountered, due to his drug use and problems in his home life, which included him being in and out of the home.  At 12 years old, James found himself in more trouble and began working with Jennifer Keener, Youth Advocate, at YouthZone through the Senate Bill 94 program, which is a grant initiative funded by the State of Colorado. This program provides alternatives to detention for youth, ages 10 to 17, who are involved in the juvenile justice system.

James’ substance abuse and behavioral problems escalated to the point he was placed into a residential treatment facility in Denver, which he eventually ran away from.  He was then placed into a second residential facility, with orders from the judicial system that his choices were to see the program through or find himself being held in juvenile detention.

It is in the second residential facility that James stopped fighting the system and began to work the program to better understand his substance abuse issues.  And, at this time, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, an illness that his mother also struggles with.

After leaving the residential facility, James was placed on probation and ordered by the court system to continue counseling with YouthZone.  Since the summer of 2014, he has been working with counselor Kerri Cheney, and he has remained drug-free. For those living with bipolar disorder, there are good days and bad days – and James is no exception.  He has certainly had his ups and downs since leaving the residential facility, but he’s working hard to better understand his bipolar disorder.  As a family unit, James and his mother are working through their past issues and moving forward through education and further counseling.

Unfortunately, even in 2014, there is often a stigma related to mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder.  However, even at a young age, James is recognizing the importance of speaking out and sharing his story with other families.

For those of us at YouthZone, we couldn’t be prouder of James and the progress he’s made.  We’re looking forward to seeing him reach further milestones and success, and becoming the young man we know he can be.

*To protect the identity of the youth, the young person’s name has been changed for the purposes of this story.