Jake Stanton had more than 2,000 friends on Facebook and, since early May, hundreds of people have put photos and memories on a new Facebook page, "RIP Jake Stanton.''
He was a popular 19-year-old who attended Western Washington University, a Stadium High School graduate who competed on the swim team and played in the school band, a young man whose kindness and smile are being called unforgettable.
Over the last six months, that smile hid his pain and confusion. "Jake was tortured by voices telling him to hurt himself. He didn't want to die," said his mother, Jacquie Stanton. "He fought so hard to be normal, to just be a kid in school."
A few days after their son suffocated himself in his bedroom, Jacquie and Bill Stanton agreed to be interviewed. They wanted to talk about Jake and his decision to be an organ donor. But mostly they wanted to talk about a dysfunctional mental health system.
When they noticed a change in their son about a year ago, the Stantons tried to get him help. They started with their family doctor, who told them "everybody has moods" and recommended Jake see a counselor.
"I started calling counselors and was told I couldn't get an appointment for two months," Jacquie said. "And we couldn't see a psychiatrist — who can prescribe meds — until we'd seen a therapist. We started looking for help in October and didn't get an appointment until December."
After that, he started seeing a psychiatrist and was prescribed medications that didn't seem to help.
Jake began losing faith in a mental health system his family couldn't seem to make work. One January evening, he jumped off a bridge. That landed him in the hospital for 10 days, followed by another week in the mental health unit. Though his parents wanted him to stay there, he was released.
His mother, a registered nurse, couldn't see reports on her son, because Jake was legally an adult. Trying to get him help, she found obstacles everywhere.
"I've been a nurse for 25 years, so I know the medical system," Jacquie said. "I had no idea until I was in critical need of the mental health system that it's broken. The only way to get immediate care was the emergency room, where we could keep him safe for three or four days as a danger to himself. We went through the ER five times in six months, and even then it wasn't working. He wasn't getting help, and they wouldn't keep him and give him help."
Bill Stanton watched Jacob, the oldest of his three children, isolate himself from friends, though never from his family, with whom he lived in Tacoma.
"One night, he came into our bedroom where I was watching TV and laid down on the bed with me," Bill said. "His mom came in and asked what he was doing, and he said 'Watching TV with dad.' "
The voices, however, had been growing worse. Jake would console a neighbor one afternoon, consider killing himself that evening. A few weeks ago, he put all his medications in a blender and made a lethal chocolate shake — then poured it down the sink.
"Jake told me, 'I'm having such a hard time,' and I told him, 'We're going to win, Jake,' " Jacquie recalled.
• • •
On Thursday, May 1, Jake came home from a night class and talked to his father, then went downstairs to his room. Ten minutes later, Jacquie came home from work, asked where Jake was and called to him.
There was no answer.
"I knew right then," she said.
Jacquie Stanton entered her son's room. "He was lying on the bed with a trash bag over his head," she said. "I had to tear the bag off his head and begin trying to resuscitate him."
Bill called 911, then began helping his wife perform CPR. Jake's 15-year-old brother, Kyle, and 13-year-old sister, Avery, watched in horror. Paramedics arrived, found a slight heartbeat and raced him to the hospital.
"He was alive but not alive," Jacquie said. "They kept him alive with machines until the next morning. Jake was an organ donor, so we had to talk to doctors there about the process."
It wasn't easy for the family. "Once he was breathing on his own, he died in seven minutes," Jacquie said. "Then the team had to take him within two minutes to do what they had to do."
Jake's liver, kidneys and corneas were given to recipients within hours.
• • •
Jake had an appointment with his psychiatrist set up for the day he died, and the psychiatrist was notified of Jake's death, but the family has not heard from him.
"If I couldn't make the system work, how is someone with a mental health problem supposed to make it work?" Jacquie said. "It just seemed we could never get anyone vested in Jake, in solving his problems."