Why?

Anytime someone takes their own life, the question that is always on everyone's mind is "why"?  It seems unfathomable, although most people have thought about it at some time in their life, especially during their teen years.  Most don't admit it, though.  Hopefully, you've read the comments on this website and looked at the many happy pictures of a child growing up into a young man. A young man who had friends, intelligence, looks, talent, stability,... seemingly everything a person could want. Of course, no one's life is perfect.  My hope on this particular page is that by exposing some of Jake's life and issues, someone may be helped by it.

Around the end of 2001 when Jake was in the 6th grade, Jake's personality started to change. He had been in puberty about a year and had started to change physically, but he still was a fun loving kid that was never disrespectful.  That began to change.  He became more defiant, got angry more often, exploded much easier, and started to exhibit some "devil may care" attitudes. Sounds like a normal teenager, right? I mean, many teens go through a period where they're defiant, verbalize their anger, and make bad choices. It's a difficult time because their body is changing; their hormones are wigging out; their brain is essentially being rewired from a child to an adult; and they're trying to discover where they fit in.  It's a tough time for a kid.  However, Jake was only 11 years old and  some of the ideas he got into his head disturbed me.  

A psychiatrist gave Jake some tests including an I.Q. test, some motor tests and an MNPI. He said that Jake's IQ was right at "above average", but he was showing some bi-polar tendencies.  As of this writing, the mental health community doesn't like to diagnose teens as bi-polar because there is so much other stuff going on in an average teen's head, sometimes it is difficult to segregate the normal from the abnormal.  Teens do stupid things sometimes.  Anyway, about six months later, Jake was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), which is a disruptive disorder. When first described to me, I thought, "that sounds like every teenager I've ever known!" But ODD is more than just a normal teenager blowing up once in awhile.  Jake possessed many of the symptoms, but not all.  Here is some information about ODD.

What is ODD?

ODD is a persistent pattern (lasting for at least six months) of negativistic, hostile, disobedient, and defiant behavior in a child or teen without serious violation of the basic rights of others.

What are the Symptoms of ODD?

Symptoms of ODD may include the following behaviors when they occur more often than normal for your age group: losing your temper; arguing with adults; defying adults or refusing adult requests or rules; deliberately annoying others; blaming others for your own mistakes or misbehavior; being touchy or easily annoyed; being angry and resentful; being spiteful or vindictive; swearing or using obscene language; or having a low opinion of yourself. The person with ODD is moody and easily frustrated, has a low opinion of him or herself, and may abuse drugs.

What Causes ODD?

The cause of Oppositional Defiant Disorder is unknown at this time. The following are some of the theories being investigated:

It may be related to the child's temperament and the family's response to that temperament.

A predisposition to ODD is inherited in some families.

There may be problems in the brain that cause ODD.

It may be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

"Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is diagnosed when a child displays a persistent or consistent pattern of defiance, disobedience, and hostility toward various authority figures including parents, teachers, and other adults. ODD is characterized by such problem behaviors as persistent fighting and arguing, being touchy or easily annoyed, and deliberately annoying or being spiteful or vindictive to other people. Children with ODD may repeatedly lose their temper, argue with adults, deliberately refuse to comply with requests or rules of adults, blame others for their own mistakes, and be repeatedly angry and resentful. Stubbornness and testing of limits are common. These behaviors cause significant difficulties with family and friends and at school or work ODD characterization is clearly outside the normal range of behavior for a child of the same age in the same sociocultural context, but does not include the more serious violations of the rights of others as reflected in the aggressive and dissocial behavior.  

Oppositional defiant disorder is sometimes a precursor of conduct disorder.  Studies of twins and adopted children suggest that it has both biological (including genetic) and psychosocial components.  Social risk factors include (among others), early maternal rejection, parentsí psychiatric illness, separation from parents with no adequate alternative caregiver available, abuse or violence, parental marital discord, large family size, crowding, and poverty.  It's estimated that approximately five percent of children have ODD and it usually occurs in children who have another illness such as ADHD or depression. ODD, and other conduct problems is the single greatest reason for referrals to outpatient and inpatient mental health settings for children, accounting for one half or more of all referrals. 

Before puberty, the condition is more common in boys, but after puberty the rates in both genders are equal. Frequently, this behavior is most evident in interactions with adults or peers whom the child knows well, and signs of the disorder may not be evident during a clinical interview.  When the parents are overly restrictive, the child fights back more, resulting in a power struggle. Treatment of oppositional defiant disorder has poor outcomes. Some individual therapies and family therapies have been successful, but not to a great extent."

The medical profession doesn't seem to have a lot of definitive answers about ODD.  There is a lot of information on the web about ODD, but this website from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has some good information.

Jake was not ADHD, he made super grades in first through sixth grade and never got in trouble.  He always had hugs for his teachers and family.  He didn't seem to have any more outbursts than any of the other kids I knew.  We had a great summer in 2001 and enjoyed a nice family vacation in California.  He must have started experiencing depression in late 2001 because that is when it seems he started getting angry about things that didn't matter and started getting very opinionated about a lot of things he never cared about before.  It was like a whole new dimension to his personality.  There were many, many times when he was still that happy, funny kid from his earlier years, but they became more infrequent, especially in the last year of his life.  Most people, including casual friends and relatives, didn't see the extent of it because kids with ODD don't act that way except with close family, teachers, and maybe a few close friends.  It was hard to tell what kind of mood Jake was going to be in.  He usually seemed fine unless he didn't get his way or disagreed with something that was going on.  Again, that was a totally new dimension to his personality.  Jake started taking medication, including an anti-depressant and one for anger.  They seemed to help a little bit, but it wasn't a magic cure by any means.  Sometimes, it was a fight just to get him to take those.

In addition to seeing a psychiatrist and counseling with a psychologist, Jake got involved in the Gary Miller Children's Justice Center program. He was getting extremely hard to handle at home and I had a fear that he was going to get into some real trouble because of some of the things he would write or say.  When he was affected, you couldn't seem to talk him out of anything or rationalize with him.  Many of the kids that pass through the Justice Center are in the system because they've done something illegal (drugs, curfew, property destruction, violence, etc) and the juvenile court is trying to get them back on the right path before they turn 18 and the rules change on them.  The first pass through the system is pretty standard, but if a kid doesn't get the message or ends up commiting larger and more serious crimes, they end up at the Gary Miller Center in lockup and go to court wearing orange coveralls and wrist and ankle chains.  If you have a teen who hasn't really gotten into trouble yet with law enforcement, but is getting uncontrollable at home, you can also get them put into the system by parental request. The juvenile court would much rather try to straighten out a teen sooner than later.  Many single mothers with teens that are out of control utilize this type of service.  There is a judge, a representative from the District Attorney's office, social workers, probation officers, etc. Jake was put on probation and given a list of rules to follow. Pretty standard stuff like "obey all local, state, and federal laws." "Obey all rules at school and maintain a C average. "Stay away from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco." "Obey your parents' rules at home."

Getting your kid in the juvenile system might seem harsh to some, but when the kid is ODD, you can't just tell them "you're grounded" and expect them to comply.  They don't.  Further, the more you fight with them, the more they fight back.  The adult court system doesn't care if a kid is ODD.  I was scared that Jake was going to do something serious and he'd end up in the adult system where no one really cares about you or your welfare.  You're just another thug kid as far as they're concerned.  Plus, in regular families where the kid gets into some real serious trouble, the court system and society usually blames the parents or the environment created by the parents.  It's almost by default because there are so many crappy parents out there.  The juvenile court system provided Jake and his family a lot of support.  It also provided a legal window into the family just in case something serious happened.   Without it, you run the risk of assistant district attorneys and such looking to raise their public profile by trying to nail the parents when their kid tries to do something illegal and dangerous.  Again, in this day and age, there is not a lot of parental support you can get.  Not a lot of people care or will get involved, until your kid guns down a cop or something.  Then, everyone rushes in to analyze the situation, give their "expert after-the-fact" opinions and blame the kid, parents, and whoever else.  It's too late at that point.  I was thankful that we did get some support from the people at the Gary Miller Center.  

Jake broke his probation a few times and would usually be given 20 hours or 40 hours of community service.  He liked doing community service at the food bank in El Reno because the people were nice and he still had that good heart that wanted to do things for those that were less fortunate.  However, he didn't particularly care for picking up dog poop at Pets & People in Yukon!  He said the one of the main ladies that ran the place was mean to all of the kids and talked to them like they were degenerates.   And I have to agree.  She was a bitch.

After community service didn't seem to work, he was put in detention a couple of different times, hoping that would straighten him up.  It's very strict inside and Jake would comply with everything that was required of him.  Looking back, it makes perfect sense because he didn't know any of the people there, so he wouldn't display his ODD side.  In fact, the guards seemed to like him a lot and knew him by name. When he would see them outside of detention, they would talk and joke with him. (Again, there was that magnetic personality that attracted people to him, which made the whole ordeal even more confusing!)  His psychologist said that it was because anyone who knew him could tell he had a good heart, was smart, and personable, unlike some of the hardened kids they dealt with.

Jake got defiant with his psychiatrist in early 2004 during one session when she was pressing him on an issue.  Jake was telling her the way it was and no one was going to change his mind.  She said "are you trying to get put back in St Anthony's?"  Jake had spent a couple of weeks there in 2002 for threatening to do some mean things and not appearing remorseful, but I don't think he was helped that much by the experience.  Because he was only 12, he was not allowed to be with the teens and instead, was with kids from 4 to 12.  When he checked in, the in-patient nurse looked at him like he didn't belong, and said, "Well, you're what we would call an older twelve year old."  One evening he called me and said, "Dad, you've got to get me out of here.  They make us watch Disney movies!"  All of the other kids in his ward were ages four through nine.  Jake clearly didn't fit the profile, but because of his age, they wouldn't put him with the older kids.  He went ahead and did the kiddy stuff (which didn't hurt him), but because he looked and acted more like a teen, he developed friendships with some of the male interns, and talked about motorcycles and rock music.  Some of the kids in Jake's ward had severe emotional problems and would habitually steal things out of his room or have these wild fits and have to be locked up in a padded cell-type room.  When I visited, he gave me the lowdown on all of the kids.  He'd say, "you see that kid?  He jumped out of a second story window." or "that little freak there keeps stealing stuff out of my room when I go take a shower.  I told him I'm going to pound him if he doesn't stay out of my stuff!"  On another visit, he told me, "that little kid there goes crazy sometimes.  They stick him in that room and he screams and runs into the door over and over again!"  One little kid said that he heard voices telling him to kill himself.  The entire experience  totally freaked Jake out and he was so glad to get out of there.  He couldn't relate to it.  These kids acted crazy.  Jake, on the other hand, didn't know any of these people, so he acted perfectly normal in St Anthony's and didn't show his ODD side.  Further, when Jake would get defiant and oppositional at home, he sincerely believed that he was only standing up for what he thought was right, no matter how nonsensical it may have been.

Jake finally got off probation in December 2003, but fell back into his old ways.  He didn't get into fights at school unlike the 7th grade and I praised him for that, but he became more defiant at home and said inappropriate or threatening things if he got mad or disagreed.  He started smoking pot again, too.  Jake was put into an alternative class because he was considered "at risk of dropping out."  He liked this class a lot and made lots of friends.  However, he got removed from the class because he blew up at the teacher one day when he thought someone had been messing with his project.  She said no one had, but Jake wouldn't let it go.  This teacher had worked with Jake a lot and had even got him into weight lifting with her husband and herself.  Jake liked her a lot.  But again, with ODD kids, they usually misbehave with the people they feel most comfortable with.  That was February 2004 and marked the beginning of the end for Jake. His alternative teacher made it clear to him that she wasn't giving up on him and  would take him to school two days a week so they could talk for 15 minutes or so.  Yet, getting suspended for the incident and taken out of his alternative class depressed him.  After that, some teachers reported that he just "shut down" at school.

After he was removed from alternative classes, suspended twice, and was becoming more difficult at home,  I decided to get Jake back on probation in April 2004 because it had made some difference in his behavior before.  It was not a cure and took up an inordinate amount of time, but it made him accountable to someone else besides me.  If he ended up doing something serious, at least they would have been aware and involved.  Even though a parent does his or her best, you can't keep your kid locked in his room 24 hours a day, so there's an uncontrollable element present.

I was hoping that, in time, Jake would learn to deal with his problems and mature some.  When he went back to court, the judge turned up the heat on him, chewing him out because he was back so soon.  Judge Miller  told him that he would be taken into state custody and sent to a boys home if he broke the rules again. Jake knew that the judge was serious, because he had followed through on everything he'd said from the  prior probation. Most kids appearing in front of a judge would be shaking in their shoes or just flat won't say a word except maybe mumble "yes sir" and "no sir", yet Jake would respectfully ask articulate questions about punishment, time spent, and such.  When the judge referred to a document that Jake had signed, Jake didn't recall and wanted to see it.  He would halt the whole process until he was satisfied that it was all legitimate, which is a very grown up thing to do.  Jake seemed to clearly understand the situation. Unfortunately, he immediately broke probation the very next day when he got suspended from school for saying something inappropriate in science class, which some of the kids and teacher overheard.  It made the kids laugh, but it was still inappropriate.  The science teacher sent him to the office.  Some kids only get an "in-school suspension" or "lunch detention" with an offense like that, but Jake had been in trouble many times before.  The assistant principal had gotten to the point he didn't like Jake and treated him more harsh (so the kids tell me).  Jake got ten days suspension.

That was absolutely the most puzzling thing about Jake's condition.  When he started to suffer from ODD, it seemed that the logical link between "doing something wrong" and "recognizing there would be a consequence" was broken.  He had never had that problem before, but it was suddenly like that link wasn't there anymore.  Jake was clearly intelligent and could articulate the rules that he was suppose to follow, but he would break them anyway. It made no sense, yet he did it over and over again.  When you'd ask Jake why, he'd either say "it's not my problem" or "I'm going to live my life."  Sometimes, he said that it was just a normal teen thing and he was going to experience everything a teenager does, regardless of what anyone says.  He had this "rebel without a cause" vision and thought he was suppose to experience it.  It sure causes frustration in parents and teachers because they can't understand it and seems illogical.

It's sort of like a person with an eating disorder. They look at themselves in the mirror and honestly see a large, overweight person when, in reality, their reflection actually shows skin and bones.  They place their hand on a piece of paper and are asked to draw a tight outline around their hand.  It seems bizarre when they take the pencil and outline a much larger hand!  As an uninformed bystander, you can tell  there's something wrong because you can see the skin and bones body, but yet, it's hard to understand how a person's brain can convince themselves that they look totally different.  With an ODD child, there's not a change in the physical appearance, so you just can't look at them and tell.  Since most teens act defiant and angry at intervals,  it can sometimes look like normal teenage behavior to uninformed people. The kid doesn't look retarded, they don't act "slow" or ADHD, they don't go around with a depressed "woe is me" attitude all of the time, so people think that the kid is exhibiting normal teenage angst and making conscientious choices to screw up, which parents call dumb mistakes. 

Some of the middle school administrators and other people thought that Jake always did things on purpose and could have stopped it if he'd wanted.  For quite awhile, I thought so, too.  The flaw in that thinking is that you're applying your own logic to someone who has a mental disorder that causes them to do illogical things sometimes.  I've seen a lot of supposedly normal people do some pretty damn illogical things in my opinion, so whose to say what's normal?  Since some of these afflicted kids don't around wearing big signs that say "ADHD" or "ODD" or "bi-polar," they are misjudged often as simply being "troublemakers".  A Surgeon General's report says that few families in the U.S. are unaffected by mental illness.  It's estimates that 15-20 percent of the population suffers from some sort of mental disorder.  

I'm positive that some decisions Jake made were simply poor choices that all teens experience at some time.  Other times, his illness contributed to or caused him to do some of things he did.  As a parent or a teacher, you can't ignore the bad behavior, even ODD behavior, but dealing with it is more complicated than just "grounding the kid so he won't do it again" or "suspending them from school."

It's very tough dealing with an ODD child at home. They want to set their own rules and agenda and can make everyone miserable in the household because you have to fight for control of the house.  When they don't get their way or get punished for not obeying the rules, they get angry, argue, yell, cuss, and threaten.  (I can see a lot of people reading this right now and saying, "yikes, my teen does that, too.")  Jake would get mad and punch holes in doors sometimes.  He never hit any of his family or even acted like he was going to, but he threatened a lot.  After they've earned your distrust by constantly being disobedient and saying so many hurtful things, it breeds animosity towards them at school and at home.  It absolutely wears you out.  Some parents take the easy way out and just ignore it, letting the kid do what they want, when they want.  If you haven't experienced living with an ODD child for an extended period, you simply cannot fathom how difficult it is.

I did find great comfort in learning that Jake was respectful when he went to friends' houses. I was fearful that because he was getting angry at home and school, I thought he might also be acting that way everywhere else.  I found out from other parents that Jake had always acted like a perfect gentleman when he was in their homes.  In fact, he was outgoing and would be very social with the parents. He liked going to one friends house because her dad had a Jackson Randy Rhoads guitar and would let him play it!  Not to say that Jake didn't do a little hell raising.  He did and I am glad he did, just as long as it was within certain bounds and he was respectful when in someone elses home. 

That's one of the peculiar things about ODD. Kids exhibit ODD behavior to adults and friends that they know well, but not to new acquaintances. That also makes people think that their bad behavior is clearly by choice, but if that was the case, I guess it wouldn't be designated as a mental disorder, would it?

Jake did get depressed sometimes, though. Every once in awhile, he would totally crash and cry.  God help him, he didn't know what to do about it, and it wasn't like a simple explanation was going to make it go away.  Some of the anger he had was probably depression, just manifesting itself that way. He would get angry and was always looking for ways to vent his anger. Some of his journal notes show that he was absolutely tortured inside. He wasn't happy, but didn't seem to know what would make it better. He thought that getting away from home would make everything great, but it was only because he thought there wouldn't be any rules to follow.  He didn't want to live at home, but he didn't want to live with anyone else either.  He actually thought that he could stay with a friend for a few days, then stay with another friend for a few days, and so on.  I told him that was nuts and it wouldn't happen.  I don't think he understood what was going on inside of him nor did he want to accept it.

Sometimes, he would argue with the psychologist and get bent out of shape or go off on me because I was so unreasonable. Yet, as soon as we walked out of the psychologist office, Jake acted like nothing had happened and he'd be his happy-go-lucky self and say, "where are we going to go eat?" He never carried his angry emotions or what he had said out of the counselor's office.  He talked about suicide sometimes and always made it clear that he held the power to run away or commit suicide. When he'd say it, it wasn't part of some huge emotional scene.  He would always say it calmly, but firmly, and usually when he was bent out of shape about something.  It was his way of saying that he was in control of his destiny, not anyone else.  Unfortunately, whenever his psychologist or psychiatrist asked him about it, he would always say that he just "said it out of anger and that he didn't really mean it."  So, they didn't see it as a serious threat.  However, I was concerned  because Jake had no fear about things.  I even had the police come out a couple of weeks before Jake died because Jake got mad and  threatened suicide after I forced him to come home after disappearing for 8 hours without permission.  The police came and talked to him in his room for 10 minutes, but they said he seemed fine.  It was just his anger getting the best of him.  The psychiatrist and psychologist had the same impression.  They were more concerned about Jake's anger than suicide because that's what he exhibited  most of the time.  He had a lot of friends and wasn't  withdrawn.  He was just mad!  He turned against God sometimes.  About a year after he died, one of Jake's friends told me about a conversation she had with Jake.  Jake asked her if she believed in God.  She said yes.  Jake said "well, how do you know for sure?"  She explained to him about faith.  Then Jake said, "Well, if God is real, then why doesn't he help me?"  I had seen Jake go the alter during church service on Sunday morning, but I never asked him why he went.  It was between him and God.  I think he held a grudge against God for not helping him.  There are some religions that believe if a person commits suicide they don't enter heaven, but that's just stupid middle-ages rhetoric that has continued in the form of church doctrine.  Churches use to burn witches, too.  Anyway, when Jesus was being crucified, he looked up at the heavens and said "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)  People that take their own lives are in a confused  emotional state where they don't know what they're doing and I'd bet that God knows that.  Anyway, it's a lot bigger issue that none of us understand or likely ever will.  I do believe that "we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience."  Jake jumped out of this world and into the next one prematurely.

 In retrospect, I see now that he had an unhealthy fascination with suicide, but I know for a fact that Jake didn't really comprehend the finality of suicide.  WE discussed it many times.  He didn't leave any note, but writings in his private journal validate how he didn't comprehend the reality of a lot of things, suicide being one of them.  Kids don't comprehend the reality in life anyway at that age.  Jake didn't believe that he would die.  It was just like some of the other things he would do. He understood suicide,... he understood what death was,... but again, the link between "action and consequence" seemed to be lost on him.  Jake had been suspended from school and was spending his time at home.  He hated being suspended from school because "it was boring at home" he said.  He wanted to be around friends.  Further, he was apprehensive because he knew he'd be going back to the Juvenile Center to face the judge.

I was always hopeful that if we could get Jake through these tough teen years and keep him out of real trouble, he'd learn to deal with ODD and depression.  Many adults learn to deal with it, while others struggle with it their entire lives.  Jake had a loving family that cared about him and a lot of resources available to him that many folks don't have.  We tried our best.

There has been a lot of recent talk about the role of anti-depressants in teenage suicide. None of the current anti-depressants, save one, have been FDA-approved for use by children. Yet, there are millions of these prescriptions given to children by the psychiatric profession. Both of the psychiatrists that Jake saw specialized in children psychiatry and prescribed anti-depressants to their patients. In mid-2004, Great Britain outlawed anti-depressants for use by children.  In October 2004, about six months after Jake died, the FDA reversed itself and ordered that all antidepressant drugs be sold with a prominent warning to doctors that the medications increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior among children and adolescents.  I don't think there is enough evidence right now to say that they are unequivocally unsafe for children, but as with all medications, there are certainly exceptions and side-effects that can affect small populations.  Whether the antidepressant prescribed to Jake played any  part in his death, I don't know.  We trusted the doctor and her 20 years of specializing in child and adolescent mental health.  If I had the choice now and the FDA had spoken sooner, I would have taken him off the antidepressant to see if it would have made a difference.  

With all that our family has gone through with this tragedy, I am thankful for one thing. I got to spend a huge amount of one-on-one time with Jake in his final years, picking him up from school and taking him to various appointments and such.  True, they weren't always things that you wanted to do, but we were together and we had lots of talks about things.  Jake still got a lot of time to run around with friends, too.  Bless his heart, he just couldn't fight off what was torturing him inside.  The hardest part for me is going on with my life and dealing with critics who think they know more than they know, even though they might have spent little time with Jake or only saw a brief glimpse of who he really was.  Everyone seems to think they're an expert and freely give their opinions, but very few lift a finger to help.  But as a parent, do you really think that anyone knows your kid better than you?  I hurt terribly because I selfishly want him here with me, but I know that Jake suffers no longer. I know in my heart that Jake has found a peace that he could not fully find here on earth.   With all of the things Jake had here on earth,....family, friends, talent, looks, money,..... in the end, none of it really mattered to him.  He was going to plunge out of this world and into the next.  

My memories of Jake are good because we had so many more good times than bad.  I just wish I could have worked him through all of this.  He was a special person and it was a privilege to be his father for 14 years.  He will be in my heart forever.