At more than 6 feet tall, Jack Green was handsome, charismatic and athletic.

Following in the footsteps of his father – a former U.S. record-holder on the 1984 Olympic track and field team – Green was a star athlete, playing center in water polo at Huntington Beach High School, before joining UC Irvine’s team as a freshman last school year.

While already juggling strenuous school work and practices, Green was struck in March 2020 by an unexpected challenge: the coronavirus pandemic. The campus and his dormitory closed. Practices, games and regular contact with friends ended. Classes went online as the virus lockdown dragged on. 

“He went from this huge amount of training all of these years, to suddenly nothing,” his father Bill Green said. “He lost his sport, his social group, and online school was not easy for him … everything started to change for him in his life.”

Six months later – a couple weeks after he was admitted to a hospital and entered a psychiatric facility in Northern California, Jack Green took his life Sept. 5. He was 19 years old.

His death shows the emotional toll the coronavirus lockdown had on students separated from friends and who’ve had limited activities and no in-person classes, his family said. They say his isolation and mental illness escalated and loomed large in Jack Green’s death. Drastic changes in his behavior led the family to check him into mental health facilities, where he was diagnosed with an unspecified psychiatric disorder.  

“It’s more important than ever for families to really pay attention and be the advocate for their loved one, and not assume they’re always getting proper care,” his mother Julie Green said. “Medical facilities are overwhelmed right now, and I think there’s a lot of burnout. It’s important for parents to have that hard conversation with their kids, about how they’re really feeling.”

Bill Green added: “What looked to us like a personality change, was in reality a clinical condition.”

Jack Green’s obituary, penned by relatives, said “family and friends struggle to understand the delusion and despair which led to this, when his life held so much promise.”

On Sept. 17, Jack’s girlfriend Madi Habibi and family organized an ocean “paddle-out,” a traditional ceremony by water sports athletes, in his memory in Huntington Beach. The funeral was two days later at St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach. Family and friends raised nearly $29,000 for his memorial fund and services. 

Jack’s younger sister, Victoria, said she was “heartbroken” at how rapidly she saw her brother’s behavior change.

“Prior to the quarantine, Jack was one of the only people I understood to be legitimately happy with his life,” said Victoria Green, 17. “He was a diamond in the rough; always there to uplift everyone, inspire them with his reckless enthusiasm and his charm. But even people like Jack have a breaking point.” 

Julie Green said losing his regimen of school, athletics and a social life was extremely difficult for her son. A busy schedule and regular physical activity kept him focused, she said.

UC Irvine officials declined to comment, university spokesperson Pat Harriman said.

Though Jack took on a summer job, the family noticed he was staying up too late, not eating, working out less, becoming more irritable, picking up unhealthy social media habits and isolating himself from loved ones as the months wore on.

“The pandemic really changed how Jack saw himself,” said Julie Green, a nurse at Kaiser Medical Center in Irvine.

The couple said there were many “missed signs” and a lack of understanding of what Jack Green was going through at home. Extreme behavioral changes prompted them to get help from various mental health rehabilitation programs, including National Psychiatric Care Rehabilitation Services, an inpatient voluntary facility in Walnut Creek, where he stayed in August. Jack Green had expressed thoughts of suicide several times and, his parents said, the facility didn’t properly assess him or his concerns.

Daina Glasson, regional director of National Psychiatric Care and Rehabilitation Services and Central Valley Congregate Living, said in a Tuesday, Feb. 23, email that the facility “had no such incident in our care on our Walnut Creek facility premises.” Reached by phone, Glasson declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality.

The Greens said distance learning brings challenges for many students such as their son, and these obstacles add to the pressures with which young people already are grappling.

In the absence of a normal routine, families must better monitor their kids, especially their online activities, the couple said. Psychiatric facilities need to be better equipped. Schools should properly use their resources, including check-in surveys and psychiatric counseling, to get a better handle on how students are doing in and out of the classroom, they said.

Victoria Green said the most important thing families and friends can do for their loved ones with psychological crises is to simply be present.

“None of us are saviors, but we are companions,” she said. “That’s all we need to be.”

Her father called for stronger mental health awareness so families and teachers can detect early signs and know how to respond, or when to call a professional.

“What seems like a personality change could very well be the beginning of a mental-health deterioration,” he said. “When somebody mentions suicide, it needs to be taken seriously. It’s an insidious problem, and people need to pay attention.”

As Jack Green’s parents continue to grieve, they’ll remember their son’s drive, his caring and adventurous spirit, and his “million-dollar smile.”



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