Jake’s Story

***TRIGGER WARNING***
This story discusses suicide and suicidal ideation.

Although she is grieving, Denise is using her voice to share Jake’s story – a story fueled by love, loss, and a steadfast determination to shine a light on the gaps in mental health care and the challenges many in our community face while searching for quality care. Though Jake’s story is marked by tragedy, it is also a testament to the importance of receiving the right care at the right place and right time.

Jake was Denise’s oldest son, who was a happy and vibrant child. His struggle with anxiety began in high school while dealing with the overwhelming pressures of academics, extracurriculars, and the uncertainty of his future. Recognizing that Jake needed professional help, Denise scheduled an appointment with his pediatrician, who recommended counseling. Denise and Jake quickly encountered barriers to receiving care, with wait times for an appointment with a counseling provider at four to six months.

Denise reached out to a friend who was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker to provide him with professional guidance and support. This helped for a while, but with Jake’s increasingly busy schedule and the limited number of counseling appointments available, his anxiety intensified so much that he could not get up to go to school or work. Jake then agreed to try anti-anxiety medication, but he struggled with the side effects.

Then the pandemic happened. In seclusion, while preparing to graduate from high school, Jake’s outlook became increasingly grim, and decisions on his future education and career weighed heavily. With Jake turning 18, this transition to legal adulthood brought unforeseen obstacles, leaving Denise grappling with the limitations of helping Jake find access to care.

Be an Advocate

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and there are many ways you can become an advocate for mental and behavioral health. Together, we can raise awareness about the need for mental and behavioral care. We can start conversations that promote a more supportive and inclusive environment for those experiencing mental health challenges. And we can share our stories because stories have the power to break down stigmas associated with mental health and build connections so that we know we are not alone.

On December 8, 2020, filled with desperation, Jake bravely told his mom he needed help. That day, Jake voluntarily admitted himself into an inpatient behavioral health facility to hopefully receive the care he needed. During his stay, Jake was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was prescribed medication.

But even with treatment, Jake was still struggling. His medications caused debilitating side effects. He struggled to find an outpatient program to help him manage his care and medication and a peer support group of young adults like Jake with mental health conditions.

Less than a year later, Jake approached Denise again, asking for help. Together, they sought help at the emergency room for assistance with his medication management. While in the hospital, Jake was evaluated by a different psychiatrist who recommended a new treatment plan that was to be titrated up daily to a therapeutic dose over time. However, when Jake was transferred to the same behavioral health hospital he had previously been in, he encountered a gap in his care. Due to a lack of collaboration and communication between health providers, Jake did not receive the proper prescribed medication for over a week. Despite Denise’s relentless efforts to navigate the system and advocate for Jake, barriers persisted, preventing her from effectively coordinating his treatment and care.

When Denise finally took Jake home, he said to her: “I’m just a 20-year-old guy who asked for help, and I was Baker Acted and treated like a criminal. I just want my story to be told. You don’t come back from something like this.” Less than six days later, Jake ended his life.

Jake’s story resonates and echoes in the hearts of all who hear it. He was a son, a brother, and a friend; his story matters. It reminds us of the urgent need for improvements and expanded access to mental health care.

Denise’s unwavering support and love were a source of comfort and salvation in Jake’s darkest moments. Today, Denise continues to spread that love through her advocacy and honoring Jake by sharing his story. Denise hopes that by telling Jake’s story, we can better educate others and bring positive change to mental health care so that other families do not have to endure the pain of losing a loved one to mental illness.

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