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This young Seattle man, whose life inspired a movement, has died. He was 23

Lawmakers in Olympia Wednesday paid tribute to a young man whose struggles fueled efforts to reform how the state responds to people with severe mental illnesses.

Calvin Clark, of Seattle, died by suicide on Monday. He was 23.

On Wednesday, during Legislative testimony, lawmakers and advocates remembered Clark and vowed action on mental health reform efforts backed by his family.

“I want you to know that Calvin’s name will live on, both in respect to this bill and in respect to all the work that this legislature does in the future," said Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma.

"We are very, very sorry for your loss and want you to know that we are committed to making improvements," Jinkins said, in a message to Clark's mother, Jerri Clark.

Calvin Clark was an honors student and state debate champion before he was diagnosed with a severe form of bipolar disorder while a freshman at Willamette University.

He also suffered from anosognosia, which means he didn't understand that he was ill and in need of treatment.

At one point, when Calvin was severely psychotic, he spent six weeks in jail with no medication or treatment, his mother said. He also attempted suicide.

In the wake of her son's descent into mental illness, Jerri Clark founded the group MOMI, or Mothers of the Mentally Ill.

She quickly became an outspoken advocate, appearing last year with Governor Jay Inslee when he unveiled his mental health agenda.

Jerri Clark believes the state's mental health system failed her son because it was unable to provide appropriate support until he was severely ill and had been hospitalized and jailed multiple times.

"Violence is a requirement for care," she told KUOW's Austin Jenkins in an interview published in 2018. "Everyone knows this doesn’t make any sense."

Jerri Clark and MOMI are now pushing for Senate Bill 5720, which would make changes in the state's involuntary treatment law so that people who are in a mental health crisis can be more easily held for evaluation.

The bill has passed the Senate. On Wednesday, the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on it.

Some testified against the bill, arguing that it would infringe on the civil rights of people who are mentally ill. But supporters said it would save lives.

"And now Calvin is gone, that is the stark reality of this moment. We must pass all of the reforms in Senate Bill 5720. We cannot wait for another life to be lost," said David Combs, policy director of NAMI Eastside.

MOMI is also pushing for more services for people who are arrested and then declared incompetent because of their mental illnesses. They sometimes wait weeks or months in jail before their cases move forward.

Jerri Clark said in an interview this week that even as her family grieves, she will continue to follow the bills through the Legislature.

"I need to keep fighting," she said. "I need to know that Calvin's life matters."

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Hotline available 24/7: (800) 273-8255
Online chat also available
Crisis Text Line
Available 24/7: 741741
Text anywhere in the U.S. with a trained crisis counselor.
Forefront Suicide Prevention (UW)
Information, training and resources. Not a crisis line.