SEATTLE--When parents Todd and Laura Crooks lost their oldest son to suicide, it was crushing. But it was also motivating. The West Seattle parents immediately saw ways their son Chad could have and should have gotten help. They created Chad's Legacy Project to bring resources together and spark change.
Chad Crooks dreamed of working for NASA. He had big ideas and the passion and smarts to turn them into reality. But in college, he started hearing voices and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
"He started looking up what it meant to have schizophrenia and he really lost hope," Chad's mother Laura Crooks said. "And eight months after he was diagnosed, Chad died by suicide."
Chad died in January 2016.
On Thursday, Chad's Legacy Project and University of Washington Medicine hosted the first Washington Mental Health Summit. They brought more than a hundred parents, providers, insurers, educators and policy makers together to launch ten ideas to make a difference in mental health services.
The Crooks planned the summit after realizing there are plenty of programs in various communities, but they're not always easy to find.
"We have no ax to grind. We have no personal investment in this other than to make sure this doesn't happen to another family and that there's not another young person like Chad who gives up hope," Laura Crooks said.
They first approached Dr. Jurgen Unutzer, the chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at UW Medicine "There isn't any one of us that has the answer," Unutzer said. "We need to sit together, we need to talk, we need to connect the dots. We need to do what Todd and Laura asked from me a year ago, which is, you guys need to talk to each other."
One idea at the summit focuses on getting mental health education into all schools, to help remove the stigma of mental illness at a young age.
Another would create a digital community, connecting people through social media and easy-to-navigate online tools. They also discussed ways to intervene at the very first episode of psychosis, citing the average two year wait people currently have before they get help.
The Crooks can't bring Chad back. But they are determined to make a difference in mental health services. Like their son, they have big ideas, and the passion and smarts to turn them into reality.
"When we do this, we feel him with us," Todd Crooks said. "And it keeps me healthy. So perhaps it's selfish, but it keeps me from going to a place I don't want to go."
"It's really hard work. And it's exhausting, and it's frustrating," Laura Crooks added. "You gotta keep going. It's important and you just gotta keep going."
The groups will host their second mental health summit in seven months, and they say it won't just be to keep talking about their ideas. By that time, they expect to have moved forward on those ideas, and the summit will be a time to check in and ensure they are making a difference in mental health services.