Compassion & Understanding: WI Mother Advocates Awareness for Mental Health and Addiction

Discover Wisconsin

January 9, 2019

By, Mary Rauwolf
Every parent has dreams for their child. They want them to be healthy and happy, with friends and people to love and who love them back. When they laid my son, Conrad, in my arms, I had all of these dreams and many more for him. Unfortunately, he was plagued with anxiety and severe mood swings from the time he could crawl. We sought help many times, only to be told his behavior was because of our parenting. Unfortunately, his ongoing anxiety lend to substance use in high school.

Over the years, we tried multiple treatment programs and he was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, at that time, treatment programs did not work well for patients suffering with dual diagnoses. In 2015, our son suffered a heroin overdose. He agreed to go to treatment. However, after a month of begging and pleading with our insurance and multiple providers, we still received no help. On July 17, 2015 Conrad succumbed to his disease.
His death shattered our family. But, in spite of my broken heart, I received clarity. The system needs to change and all of us need a better understanding of the true causes of substance use disorder. In the past, we have been taught mental health disorders don’t show up in the young, that addiction is a moral failing, that it is a product of poor parenting, or that the person is choosing this behavior; the list could go on. In order to combat these messages and begin to find ways to work within the system, I became a part of Parents Addiction Network (PAN).

Unlike many support groups for those affected by substance abuse disorders, PAN’s focus is to advocate and problem solve. With the help of PAN and Safe Communities, another local non-profit, I was given the opportunity to help with anti-stigma training, education, Naloxone training, and Parent Peer Support. Peer support specialists are individuals who have lived through similar experiences to those they are helping and who have received specialized training to provide peer support. They walk beside the person suffering with a mental health and/or substance use disorder. I have the privilege of being trained as one of the first Parent Peer Support Specialists. My role will be to walk beside family members as they are affected by their loved one’s disorder.
I consider it a privilege to be able to do this work and I truly want to make things better for the families. No parent should have to beg for services and help when their child is critically ill. Being a Parent Peer Support Specialist allows me to talk about my son Conrad and to remind people he was more than a diagnosis. Conrad was a young man who was funny and always stuck up for the underdog. He loved pumpkin pie and cats and he rescued any animal that needed help. I am so grateful he was my son.
It is important to remember that compassion and personal connection are the best ways we can help people who are dealing with substance use disorders. If you are looking for resources or assistance please go to

The WCA Group Health Trust was created when county officials joined together to create an employee benefit program that would meet the unique needs of local governments. Today, their founding principles still remain at the core. WCA Group Health Trust is governed by officials from participating units of government and school districts, making the organization more responsive to local healthcare needs.

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