Crooks Family Turns Tragedy Into Change With Washington State’s First Mental Health Summit

Chad’s Legacy Project has been a driving force behind the first-ever Washington State Mental Health Summit. Laura Crooks (right) and her husband, Todd Crooks, started CLP in honor of their son, Chad Crooks (left), who died tragically months after he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

Laura and Todd Crooks have experienced personal devastation from losing a loved one whose mental health issues weren’t properly addressed. Their son Chad took his own life eight months after he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, on Jan. 21, 2016.

The professional help the gifted 21-year-old college student required wasn’t readily available when he needed it most.

The Crooks have since openly shared their family story in an effort to help others. They also started Chad’s Legacy Project (CLP), an endeavor in memoriam, to advance mental health education and innovations in the evaluation and treatment of mental illness.

CLP is realizing its mission, serving as the driving force behind the first-ever Washington State Mental Health Summit, which will take place on Thursday, Oct. 5. A portion of the more than $100,000 CLP has raised is covering the costs of the Summit.

“We don’t want anyone else to fall through the cracks like Chad did,” said Laura Crooks, senior director, patient and family experience at Seattle Children’s. “We didn’t know some of the things then that we know now that could have helped Chad. Chad’s Legacy Project allows us to help others.”

Access to mental health care an issue for all ages

Washington state has the 10th-highest prevalence of mental illness in the United States, and ranks in the lower half of the country in access to care for youth and adults, according to the 2017 Mental Health in America Survey. A 2015 survey by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry determined the state had a severe shortage of practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists.

“There are pockets of outstanding mental health care and programs throughout the state, but many of those are siloed,” Laura Crooks said. “You need to be in the right place at the right time to get help.”

Statistics provided by the Pacific Northwest Suicide Prevention Center further illustrate the need for change:

  • The suicide rate in Washington state is 21% higher than the national average.
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 10-24 year olds in Washington state.
  • 18% of Washington 10th graders report they considered attempting suicide in the past year, 12% report having a plan for a suicide attempt, and 7% report attempting suicide.

Chad’s Legacy Project in action

The Crooks spent the better part of the last year working with UW Medicine Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and others around Washington to change the landscape of mental health care and education in the state.  Those efforts materialized with the two-part Summit, organized and hosted in partnership with UW Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

The goal of the summit is to find ways to create better access to effective mental health care, resulting in fewer deaths.

“The passion the Crooks have brought to this has been the primary factor in getting people mobilized,” said Dr. Elizabeth McCauley, interim director of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Seattle Children’s. “It is very unique for all of us to come together. The Summit will provide a broader view of challenges to mental health care in the state and how we can work together to better address them.”

Creating a shared vision of mental health care in Washington

More than 100 leaders in healthcare, education, policy, academia, philanthropy and business will attend the first part of the Summit, where workgroups led by UW Medicine faculty members and community leaders will present the ideas for improvement they’ve developed over the last six months. The presentations will focus on five distinct areas: first episode psychosis; peers and families as resources; mental health and education; workforce development; and mental health and technology.

“People are suffering and some are dying because their mental health needs aren’t being met,” Crooks said. “We need action, and we will have the experts working on better models of care and the people who can figure out how to pay for them in one location.”

Breakout sessions to further develop action plans and identify resources and relationships that can move the ideas forward will take place following the presentations of the invite-only event.

McCauley, who is also a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the UW School of Medicine, has been part of the Summit’s mental health and education workgroup that has been focused on promoting mental health literacy for youth to reduce stigma, and building capacity of school leadership to address mental health needs.

“Community education and mental health literacy can have a tremendous impact on children and families, increasing their awareness of services,” McCauley said. “These discussions could lead to more collaborative and cooperative systems of care. The goal is to get people to recognize the gaps in care and education and work out a way to overcome them.”

In spring 2018, the Summit will reconvene with more than 1,000 members of Washington’s mental health community meeting to network, review programs that have been put into place and discuss ideas for improvement.

“We want to be big and bold and we want people to commit to making a difference,” Crooks said.


My Son Had Mental Illness – Laura Crooks

Pacific Northwest Suicide Prevention Resource Center – University of Washington Harborview Injury and Prevention & Research Center

Workforce Maps by State – American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Chad’s Legacy Project

2017 State of Mental Health in America – Ranking the States – Mental Health America

University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences