May Is Mental Health Awareness Month: Together, We’re Not Letting the Illness Win

by Samuel Burris

Program Director, JAK’s Place Mental Health Resource Center

Lakeshore Community Action Program of Wisconsin

We’ve lost the battle. We’ve lost one of our own. Now what?

Jonah Andrew Klapatch ended his life in June 2005 after a long battle with mental illness. He left friends and family and a community with so much grief and so many unanswered questions. How did things get so bad?

Schizophrenia – a chronic and severe neurological brain disorder – is one of the most disabling diseases affecting humankind. It was estimated in 2014 to affect 1.1% of the population, or approximately 2.6 million adults in the United States aged 18 and older.

Symptoms of schizophrenia range from odd or strange to debilitating and life threatening. Jonah was “high functioning” in all respects, but he still suffered. He was able to maintain employment and socialize like anyone else, but he was also tormented, suffering from recurring delusions and feelings that didn’t make sense in reality. He believed something was living in his head. He thought that suicide was the only way out.

Suicide is the worst possible outcome of mental illness. When someone has lost the will to live altogether, the illness has won. Family members and friends are left heartbroken, asking for answers that don’t exist, blaming themselves and others. It’s a terrible thing all around. 

The difference with Jonah’s suicide was how our community responded: People came together, supported each other, lifted each other up and created something positive. JAK’s Place, named for Jonah Andrew Klaptach (JAK), the son of Marlys Trunkhill and Paul Klapatch, opened in September of 2006 to become a beacon within the community that created it.

At JAK’s Place, we serve people who suffer from mental illness as well as their friends and family. We have a wonderful facility, positive and capable staff, and a willingness to help people. We currently have 10 different support groups that meet regularly, from art group to tai chi. One of our newest accomplishments is housing a group specifically designed for teenagers. Our groups are led by our staff or highly qualified professionals who donate their time.

JAK’s Place survives on grants and donations. Fundraising and networking with other local agencies and organizations are a constant. We don’t charge for our groups or our weekly meal or using our computers during regular hours. Everything we have in our building has been donated: furniture, art supplies, kitchen wares, everything. We continue to provide services and support to everyone who walks through our doors at no charge. Your contributions go toward keeping our doors open, our building safe and efficient, and our clients well served.

Reach JAK’s Place, 1623 Rhode Island Street in Sturgeon Bay, at or 920.818.0525.