AUSTIN (KXAN) – It’s been six years since a resident of Austin, Marcia Oakes’ son, Jake, died of suicide in 2015. Since his death, she has continued her mission to raise awareness of mental struggles, one step at a time.
Every year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Central Texas is hosted NAMIWalks, an event aimed at raising awareness of the prevalence of mental struggles among children, adolescents and adults. This year’s NAMIWalks marked the sixth for Team Jake, created by the Oakes family to carry on his memory.
In total, NAMI Central Texas raised more than $ 276,000 and raised more than 600 participants. Team Jake raised nearly double its fundraising goal, with more than $ 7,600 raised toward a $ 4,000 goal.
Oakes had known about NAMI Central Texas during her son’s time in treatment. When her sister attended a NAMIWalk in Fort Worth, she was moved by the outpouring of support events. Participants showed families who had felt the effects of mental struggles on their own.
“When she heard about it, she called me and said, ‘ ‘Jake deserves a standing ovation every day. We have to do something, ‘Oakes remembered. “And we said, ‘You’re right, we have to do something.’“
Expanding mental health resources
Since the first team hike six years ago, Team Jake has raised more than $ 40,000 for NAMI Central Texas. The funding helps NAMI Central Texas’ free mental health support programs and resources offered to schools, workplaces, and families. including:
- Families together: a free, three-week online class describing diagnoses, treatments and crisis responses for anyone with a mental illness
- Family to Family: a free, eight-week online class describing treatment options and crisis management response for adults living with mental illness
- Family Support Group: Free Online Group Resources for Family Members, Friends, and Partners of a Person Living with Mental Illness
- Basics: a free, six-week online class describing mental struggles in children for parents and caregivers
- Homefront: a free, six-week online class for families, friends and loved ones of a former armed service member with mental illness
A growing need
And the need for expanded mental health resources is there, said Rebecca Farrell, NAMI Central Texas program coordinator. Nearly 14% of young people aged 12 to 17 reportedly have suffered at least one major depressive episode within the past year according to data from 2021 from Mental Health America.
Texas ranks 15th nationally for teens suffering from MDEs, with 13.2% of teens reporting at least one episode over the past year.
Between 2020 and 2021, the number of teens experiencing MDEs grew by more than 206,000 nationally – with some of that growth likely due to the coronavirus pandemic, Farrell said.
Although the pandemic has exacerbated many people’s struggles, she said COVID-19 has also increased public conversations about mental illness.
“Being able to come together as a community to say, ‘Hey, this is how the face or faces look for mental health and we can have great success,’ and we need advocates and allies to be able to say, ‘You are not alone and there is nothing wrong with you, ‘“she said.” And together, if we can talk about it, we can help each other and then help each other to be able to live the lives we want to live. “
As a crowd gathered for Team Jake’s NAMIWalk over the weekend, Oakes looked around at Jake’s enduring legacy gathered in southern Austin. The memories of who he was – a quiet and funny kid who loved science fiction and deeply cared for his friends and family – remain with those who knew and loved him.
“He was just a kind, compassionate and loving person who actively wanted to get better,” she said. “We appreciate every minute of the nearly 18 years we had with him.”
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