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Why this family blames mental health system for teen's suicide

Jordan Binion's parents said they put him in a psychiatric hospital, but he didn't want to stay. They learned only later that they could have forced him to.
Jordan Binion
Jordan BinionThe Binion family

At their home outside Seattle, with horses grazing in their back pasture, Will and Deb Binion smile as they look through photographs of their son Jordan. Growing up, they say, he was intelligent, adventurous and outgoing.

Eight years ago, Jordan, known as Jordie, took his own life at the age of 17. His family believes that his suicide could have been prevented, and they have resolved to talk about it in hopes of helping others.

The Binions had taken Jordie to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. But he didn't want to stay, and the couple said they were told by hospital officials to pick him up or they would release him. The Binions learned only later that they could have forced him to stay, and they wonder if he would be alive today if he had stayed.

Jordie’s older brother, Tony Binion, says they were best friends growing up.

“I was the older brother, but sometimes I felt like the younger brother because he was the one that was like, "Let's go do this, let's jump off this, let's dive into this,' " said Tony Binion. “He was a fun kid.”

But around the age of 15, Jordie changed.

"Sometimes he started to withdraw from family and friends — he isolated himself a lot,” said his mother. "He just wasn't functioning like his usual self. His grades were slipping a little bit."

Tuesday on "NBC Nightly News," see how the Binions are changing the lives of tens of thousands of high school students though a creative new mental health curriculum.

His mother thought he was depressed.

Jordie went to a family physician, who prescribed him an antidepressant. But after a few months, his parents say, he seemed to be having other issues.

"We would catch him at times talking to himself, and then he would laugh out loud, sometimes inappropriately,” said Will Binion.

His worried parents took him to Seattle Children’s Hospital, which has a psychiatric unit for children and adolescents.

The next day, Jordie wanted to leave. Washington State law permits people 13 or older to decide whether they will stay in a psychiatric facility. The Binions said someone from the hospital called them and told them to either come get Jordie or the hospital would “release him to walk the streets of Seattle.” The Binions picked their son up.

What they didn't know was that the law allowed them to force Jordie to stay — an option that they say the hospital never gave them.

NBC News called all 50 states and learned that nearly 40 percent give minors — some as young as 12 — the power to consent to treatment. Designed in the 1970s to protect young people, the laws can have the opposite effect. Deb Binion says they were handed Jordie’s clothes “and basically that was it.”

The hospital, while saying it could not comment on Jordie's case due to privacy laws, called his death a "terrible tragedy." The hospital said it was committed to improving mental health care for children and adolescents and had taken several steps to improve care at its facility and in the region. "There is a tremendous need for improved access to mental health care and resources for children and youth all across the country, and we share the community’s concern about the increasing issue of suicide in youth."

At home, Jordie was still struggling. The very night they got back from the hospital, his parents say, he was lying on the floor of his bedroom crying and holding his head saying he had “hurt so many people.”

Jordie saw a doctor when he got home, but his parents say it took them five months to schedule a full psychiatric evaluation. One reason is a shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists in the country — only 8,300 to help an estimated 17 million kids who need it.

The day before that long-awaited appointment, Jordan Binion took his own life.

His parents believe that the mental health system let Jordie, and them, down, and resolved to change that. They went to the Washington State Legislature and successfully petitioned for a change to the law, which now requires that parents be informed that they can petition to keep a child in an evaluation and treatment center for 72 hours over the child’s objection.