Meet Ben

December 27, 2017

While living in the Twin Cities, Ben Wille felt like he should make a change.

“I needed to get out of my parents’ house and find a slower pace of life,” he said.

The 29-year-old moved in with his sister in Thief River Falls. At first, it was great.

“It’s nice being able to get to places, know some people and be more comfortable in my surroundings,” Wille said.

But for Wille, making new friends and finding a new job were especially difficult. Wille has Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder affecting social interactions, which he was diagnosed with at age 9. He also struggles with generalized anxiety disorder and moderate to severe depression.

“I was going to do so many things, and none of it was working out the way I was intending,” Wille said. “I started to realize I was disappointing people.”

For more than a year, Wille locked himself in his home, refusing to leave and never feeling the sun on his face.

Sanford Health’s mental health staff in Thief River Falls helped bring him out of the shadows and into the community with loving arms. Through multiple programs, the team walked with him through both uncertain and encouraging steps toward recovery.

“It took me from a place of barely functioning normally to now having technically two jobs and getting my life together,” he said.

First, Wille met a psychologist at the Sanford Behavioral Health Center who brought him out of his shell in a big way. Though the first appointment was daunting, Wille continued on with his treatment.

“Everybody was patient with me, that’s for sure,” Wille said. “I stumbled a lot with my words. I was very unsure. I was trying to remember everything that I had wanted to say or do, and they took their time with me.”

But, after seeing his psychologist for a few months, doubt set in again.

“I feared I was disappointing her,” Wille said. “That ended up being a singular spiral I had before and I stopped showing up to appointments.”

Fortunately, there was another option available — Sanford’s Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Service (ARMHS), a community-based service that pairs individuals suffering from serious and persistent mental illness with a behavioral health counselor.

The program was a perfect fit for Wille, said Miranda Solem, director of Sanford Health Northern Lights Community Residence.

“The counselor and Ben would actually go out in the community and the counselor could go to Ben’s home,” Solem said. “They could help him do some of these functional things that he was struggling with.”

Wille appreciated his counselor’s patience and encouragement.

“He had the nice approach of pushing without pushing too hard and knowing where some of my boundaries were,” Wille said.

When he finished the program, after a few years of counseling sessions, Solem suggested Wille become a certified peer support advocate for residents at Northern Lights. Though the process is an intense and challenging one, he completed it successfully and has been a mentor since October 2016.

“I think Ben really meets the clients where they’re at,” Solem said. “It’s important for them to know that Ben has struggled, but he gets back up and keeps on going.”

He’s also proven himself an asset to the staff. “He bridges the gap,” she said. “The clients love him, but I can’t tell you all the positive things I’ve heard from staff about what they’ve learned from Ben.”

Today, Wille lives independently in his own apartment and is doing well. He continues his work at Northern Lights and with ARMHS at the Behavioral Health Center and is deeply grateful to be a part of these programs.

“I know that every day I’m going to a job where I can help people and that’s amazing,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to be in a place where I know I can help others, but in helping others I’m also getting help myself.”

Thanks to generous support for the Thief River Falls Behavioral Health Center, individuals like Wille can find help to regain their lives.

To learn more about the Behavioral Health Center and how you can support its mission, please call (218) 683-4105.