They also envisioned a new kind of mental health conference: one where stakeholders, caregivers and the community could come together, devise solutions and be held responsible for moving initiatives forward.
First, Laura and Todd reached out to Jim Vollendroff, then the director of behavioral health care for King County and now the director of the UW Medicine Behavioral Health Institute at Harborview Medical Center. He agreed to help. Next, the three of them approached Jürgen Unützer, MD, MPH, MA, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UW Medicine, and promptly secured his partnership, too.
Planning for transformation
The Crookses, Vollendroff, and Unützer’s team, including Rebecca Sladek, associate director of marketing and communications in psychiatry, set about planning the first Washington State Mental Health Summit, held in 2018. The second summit, held Oct. 29, 2019, grew into a major event, with hundreds of educators, government officials, healthcare providers and health insurance companies collaborating to take action on mental health care initiatives. Todd calls it “transformative.”
“The summit has already inspired a number of great partnerships and collaborations,” says Unützer. “It gives me a lot of hope that things can get better.”
The partners are particularly proud of mental health “first aid” classes for youth, now regularly held at Seattle Children’s. It’s a national program that Chad’s Legacy Project and King County brought to the region. To date, over 2,000 participants — including parents, teachers, caregivers and peers — have been trained in recognizing and offering support for mental health issues ranging from depression to self-harm.
“I’d really like mental health first aid to be as prevalent as CPR training in our community,” says Laura.
In addition to being excited about the summit’s capacity to spark change, the Crookses were also very pleased to hear about the creation of the Garvey Institute for Brain Health Solutions at UW Medicine, established with a $50 million gift from Mike and Lynn Garvey this fall. The institute will promote innovative research and treatments for brain-health-related conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction.
“These gifts are really profound and can be the catalyst for moving things forward,” says Laura.
With all their work and advocacy, the Crookses hope to help patients and families connect with the mental health resources they need, especially in the stressful period following an initial diagnosis. After all, they believe, it’s what Chad would want them to do. And Unützer thinks they’re succeeding.
“Laura and Todd are simply amazing,” says Unützer. “They have inspired us all by taking the pain and grief related to the loss of their son and using it to support other families, make changes in our state, and challenge us all to do better.”
“If we can help someone like Chad and give them hope for the future, we know that Chad is still with us,” says Laura. “We believe it’s the three of us in this work, not just the two of us.”