State of Mind: Mother shares message of hope for parents of children with mental health disorders

STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) -- Did you know that 1 in 7 children and teens in the U.S. have at least one treatable mental health disorder? And awareness is growing.

Ally Burke and her son, Gibson (photo provided to WSAW by family)

As mental illness becomes more common, kids and their parents are finding they're not alone in this battle. That's what Ally Burke wants other parents to know. She and her husband have five children in their blended family. Ten-year-old Gibson is her oldest son.

"He's extremely hilarious," Burke said with a smile. He's really just a far out kid. I love it."

The bright smile on his face sometimes hides the challenges he faces. Gibson lives with schizoaffective disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety, depression and high-functioning autism.

Burke said between his conditions, Gibson struggles with social skills, irritability and controlling behaviors.

"He's got quite a lot.," she acknowledged. "It's so hard. I've battled so many things for him. People having the wrong impression of him, just thinking he's this rude, blunt kid, when really you know, he's got some mental health problems, which I think are gifts."

Aimee Budleski specializes in child mental health at Compass Counseling. She says it's not uncommon for children to have several mental health conditions at once.

"That really presents a hurdle for prescribing physicians, because working on one symptom can make another one more intense for the child," Budleski explained.

That's a battle parents -- like Ally -- face every day. "You go through a spiral of emotions. You feel alone in the world when you have a child like this," she said.

Budleski said for parents in particular, it's hard to take your child in for supports. "Because I think people feel there's a lot of shaming and that the fingers are pointed at the parent."

Burke has found her support through an agency called Innovative Services. Christopher Goetsch has been working with Gibson for three years.

"[Innovative Services provides] in home supports to individuals that dealt with a wide variety of mental health issues," Goetsch explained.

For Gibson, that means building social skills, understanding expectations and even learning about consequences.

"When we work with kids for an extended period of time, it is amazing to see some of the progress that they make. They're able to just thrive in a way that they didn't at first."

"I don't want to say they helped raise Gibson, but they've helped shape Gibson," Burke said with a proud look. "You can really see the transformation from day one."

It's Burke's hope to continue to make these strides and let other parents like her to know, they're not alone.

"Don't give up hope. Don't stop fighting. It's a lot of work. And it's okay to be weak," she said, wiping away tears. "It makes you stronger in a way but you know, just don't give up."

Budleski said it all comes down to kindness.

"We need to be kind to the other parents. Parenting is tough, and we're in this together. It takes a village to raise a child."

Budleski advises parents keep up on mental wellness checks and know what appropriate developmental milestones look like. Since children communicate through play, she says it's important for parents to recognize any signs that something may be a struggle for them.