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Tennessee Dad Shares Son’s Battle with Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

HENDERSONVILLE (WATE) – It’s a heartbreaking story about a Tennessee teen who took his own life nearly two years ago.

Jake Rozell, 19, was diagnosed early on with high anxiety. His parents later divorced. He had some good years and some terrible years struggling with his mental illness and self-medicating on and off with drugs and alcohol.

The teen was clean and sober at the time of his death, but his dad Jason Rozell at his home in Hendersonville, just outside Nashville, said if his son had never used drugs or alcohol, he’d still be alive today.

Jake Rozell was an adorable little boy with a smile that would steal your heart. He looked like a normal, happy child. He enjoyed playing football. There were many good times in his life, and just as many dark days.

“I was called to school one day and here’s a 7-year-old little boy who was drawing pictures of how he wanted to die,” said Jason Rozell.

Among the keepsakes from Jake’s life are the brown belt he earned in karate, track and field ribbons, and thick files full of his medical history and all of the efforts to get him help. After many doctors and misdiagnoses, Jake Rozell was finally found to have high anxiety.

Related: Knoxville leaders host underage drinking community town hall

“Basically, high anxiety equals fear. And what was really weird about it, here was a 7-year-old kid and this doctor in Franklin told me, she said Jake has 10 times the anxiety of the average human being,” Jason Rozell said.

After finding a medication, Zoloft, that provided the right balance for several years, the family enjoyed a pretty good quality of life, going to Titans games, Disney World, the Opryland Hotel and other vacations.

Then came a family fracture.

“He did really well on this medication. He started striving in school and he started doing really well. That worked pretty well until our family went through a divorce and the challenges of divorce and keeping a balance on someone like Jake because it’s so important – it tore him up.”

Rozell said his son started self-medicating at 13, with marijuana and beer he stole from neighbors. It escalated into frequent and frightening episodes.

“Legal troubles, started getting involved with the police. I went to school and they basically said Jake walked into school smoking a pipe,” Jason Rozell said. “[Another time] he had stolen three bottles of Dramamine – those little bottles of Dramamine. They come in a cylindrical tube with about 60 pills in them. He took all of them.”

Then came a decision.

“Jake ended up going into state custody with the state of Tennessee because we couldn’t get insurance to provide the coverage to give him the care that he really needed.”

There were still some good moments, like Jake’s 18th birthday with two of his four sisters. Ultimately, his father said he couldn’t stay clean or sober. Yet, ironically enough, there were no drugs or alcohol in Jake Rozell’s system on the day he died.

He was 19 years old and had traveled to Florida with a friend. He had an empty wallet with him, a cell phone, and his Social Security card.

“He ran out of money. The guy disappeared. Jake was on his own. Out of money. And this is important because he was not drunk. He was not high. I think part of why he was at that desperate position is because he didn’t have any money to get anything to get drunk or get high or to do anything with. And he jumped out in front of a semi on I-75 in Florida. And they came here to the house that morning and told us. The hardest thing for me out of all of it was when I had to tell his sisters,” said Jason Rozell.

Rozell explained how he was able to get through this.

“The way I feel about it, if I didn’t have God with me, I couldn’t take another step.”

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