Empowered with a Diagnosis and Support Jenna Ryan is off to a Place She Never Imagined She’d be — College

This story is part of an ongoing series featuring the 2018 Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP) Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund for Continuing Education Scholarship award winners.

They say the force of the Crimson Tide is relentless. Given all she has overcome already, leaving Sparta, N.J. to attend the University of Alabama makes perfect sense for Jenna Ryan.

“On an initial piece of paper outlining my grade history and academic achievements, I do not seem perfect, I may not even seem above average, but paper is only two-dimensional,” she wrote in her essay for the Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) Endowment Scholarship.

Jenna photographed at the University of Alabama where she is a member of the 2018 freshman class

The essay described behavior problems Jenna struggled with throughout her childhood, including elaborate lies, tantrums, even hunger strikes.

“My issues only grew worse throughout middle school; from weekly outbursts towards peers, to visiting the principal’s office for impulsive decisions, followed up by countless lunch detentions.”

Jenna said she knew she was disappointing her parents, and she wanted to do better. But she couldn’t get a handle on her anger or understand why she could not stop acting out.

Jenna said two and a half years ago, she hit rock bottom. “In February of my sophomore year, the police arrived at my house once more to tame an argument between a self-destructive teenager and two bewildered parents, but this time it was the last straw.”

She landed in a mental health facility for a week. From there, she said she knew things could only get better, and she was right. Jenna and her family were connected to a caseworker at Caring Partners of Morris and Sussex Counties who referred them to a psychiatrist who specializes in adolescent mental disorders. Finally, Jenna and her parents got a diagnosis that made sense — a form of bipolar disease called disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.

Jenna said her mother cried tears of relief, hopeful that her daughter would receive the treatment she needed. Jenna googled her disease and learned she’s not alone and that the disorder is something she shares with people from all walks of life, even celebrities. “It makes you feel more validated. It gives you an explanation and a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Jenna’s caseworker also connected the family to YAP in Sparta, where Jenna met Kristine Craudell, LCSW, a clinician whom she says, “has never stopped supporting my success, both day and night.”

“[my YAP therapist] never stopped supporting my success, both day and night.”

Kristine counseled Jenna, showing her how to consider alternative behaviors and work through her problems to get to viable solutions. Jenna said Kristine also supported her parents, sometimes serving as a mediator, and working with her YAP team to connect them to resources that gave them tools to strengthen their daughter’s foundation.

“I owe it all to Kris and YAP because without their guidance, I would have continued to descend down a negligent path,” Jenna wrote in her essay.

By the middle of her junior year, Jenna and everyone around her began to see changes in her behavior.

“My grades were rising dramatically, fights with my family were no longer outbursts but simple, civil disagreements, and, most importantly, I was able to identify and correct my behavior, advocate for my needs, and lead myself on a path to success socially and educationally.”

Jenna at her high school graduation with her parents and younger sister

Jenna said she has never seen her parents happier. “It’s so good to see them relieved and believing in me.” She has also pleasantly surprised herself. “Looking back, I could never have imagined going to college.”

Jenna’s experiences have empowered and liberated her to tap into her gifts of writing and compassion to share her story to help others. She already has two published articles. In addition to mental health, she has a special interest in women’s issues. At Alabama, she will major in journalism and political science.

“Everyone deserves to have the opportunity to be healthy enough to live up to everything they can be.”

“I want my future classmates to know that if they’re dealing with something, they should reach out to someone who can put them in touch with a good counselor. Everyone deserves to have the opportunity to be healthy enough to live up to everything they can be.”

Jenna will work part time when she goes to Alabama to pay what her scholarships and loans don’t cover. Her parents will cover books and other expenses. “The additional $1,000 YAP Endowment Fund scholarship will definitely come in handy” Jenna said.

YAP is proud to have Jenna among its scholarship winners. Congratulations, Jenna. Roll Tide.