When Brendan Ward was in the third grade growing up in Memphis, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
“During those times it was pretty rough for me. I couldn’t control my actions,” he said. “I was very disruptive. I would take my anger out on my teachers. I was kind of a danger to them.”
When he was in the eighth grade, he began to change.
“I overcame my OCD, but I still had ADHD. I started to be less of a danger to people. I got help,” he said. “I got medicine for my treatment, which helped a lot. I started to write down my experiences from third grade to eighth grade.”
It wasn’t long before Ward began speaking at events. He had a mentor, Norman Redwing, of Youth M.O.V.E. National, an organization designed to improve services and systems for young people in mental health, juvenile justice, education and child welfare systems.
“He got me involved in the community and trained me to get in front of people,” he said. “People in the community and college don’t think about mental health. It made me want to be a voice to people with all disorders.
“People listened to what I had to say. I learned to use my voice for others,” he said. “I started to go to different conferences and tell people about my struggles in the past. I started to better myself.”
Now a Western Kentucky University freshman, Ward on Thursday will be on a panel at a National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day 2016 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. For more information about how to interact with activities online and through texts, visit samhsa.gov/children/national-childrens-awareness-day-events/awareness-day-2016.
Youth M.O.V.E. National nominated Ward along with other young adults to speak and SAMHSA chose him, he said.
“I was in class when I got the email. I stepped out of class and went to the restroom. I cried tears of joy. I wanted to scream,” he said. “I was feeling high-spirited and thankful that I was going to speak at a national event. This is my first time speaking at a national event and the first time I’m speaking on a panel.
“I’ll be speaking on education with mental health,” he said. “All colleges need some type of funding for it. I’ll speak about a lot of different disabilities at one event.”
It’s a cause close to Ward’s heart. When he decided to go to WKU, he noticed that there were no scholarships for physically or mentally disabled students.
“It made me feel left out. I met with the (Student Government Association) president. I told him about my story personally. He wanted me to talk about my story to the student senators,” he said. “My proposal was could they come up with a fund for students with disabilities. It’s for our future. I think it is time for a change on campus. It takes somebody going through disabilities to make the change.”
Student body president Jay Todd Richey is supportive of Ward’s proposition. First, SGA must examine its budget for the coming year.
“We have a little more than $115,000 in our budget,” he said. “We use that for various areas right now.”
There were two places the scholarship could go through – SGA or the university, Richey said.
“In light of budget cuts, I think it would be a wise investment if we had disability scholarships through SGA,” he said. “The executive council gets to choose where the money goes. We can see if we can perhaps reduce certain discretionary funding in an area and make scholarships for students with disabilities.”
Richey described Ward as “impressive.”
“There’s a problem and lack of opportunity. That’s something SGA needs to address,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with Brendan next year. I want to make some progress and see it happen.”
Ward is also excited about the opportunity.
“People with disabilities can change the world,” he said. “We’re able to do things with our lives. I just want to be a positive role model in our society.”
– Follow features reporter Alyssa Harvey on Twitter @bgdnfeatures or visit bgdailynews.com.