Just over a year ago, Jake Hutton questioned whether his own life was worth living. In January 2017, he ingested a handful of modafinil tablets in a suicide attempt.
Hutton graduated in 2015 from California Lutheran University with a degree in biology. At 25 years old, Jake Hutton’s inquisitive outlook on life has led him to “question everything.”
“I spiraled into the point in which I said…‘Why am I here?’” Hutton said. “‘What if I stayed here and actually hurt someone and made life worse on this planet? Then I’d actually be helping the planet if I actually just took my life.’”
He said that his suicidal urge stemmed from his ongoing battle with obsessive compulsive disorder, a disorder doctors officially diagnosed him with 14 years ago.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, OCD is a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable and recurring thoughts, obsessions, behaviors and compulsions that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.
Symptoms of OCD often include themed obsessions like fear of contamination, needing things orderly and aggressive or unwanted thoughts, with the latter being the symptom Hutton and his family members describe as his main affliction.
“When you look at OCD, you always think about the kid that has to wash his hands a million times,” his mother Sheryl Hutton said. “But there’s so many facets of OCD that can hinder you and there are many different phases that he’s gone through that have been very overpowering, and for him it was religious worries.”
His mother recalled a time when his fourth grade teacher had the class write letters to soldiers. Hutton’s teacher was hesitant to send his letter because he was so fixated on the idea of being saved by God. “His letter said, ‘Dear Soldier, I’m begging you not to shoot anybody because they might not be saved yet and they won’t go to heaven,’” Sheryl Hutton said. “That was his compulsive obsession he had at the time.”
Jake Hutton credits his conversations with Peter Carlson, a religion professor at Cal Lutheran, as help through his religious existential crises, even though he never had him in a class.
“You can get some pretty nasty thoughts in your head, but it’s not your fault,” Jake Hutton said. “Those thoughts are the OCD, they are not you.”
Jake Hutton comes from a conservative Evangelical Christian household where faith was a central theme in his family. He said that he grew up with a very black and white perspective of Christianity, but his views on faith differ from the stance his parents have. He subscribes to a more liberal view of Christianity and believes that God’s kingdom in the afterlife extends to all people, including those in the LGBTQ community.
“I believe in a redeeming God and a redemptive spirit within the human body,” said Jake Hutton. “Right now I have a foundation where I believe in a higher power and I believe in loving and helping others,” Jake Hutton said.
Jake Hutton decided to take a semester off and seek professional help at the University of California Los Angeles OCD Intensive Treatment Program during the second semester of his junior year. For six weeks, his father Gary would drop him off at 7:30 a.m. and pick him up six hours later.
“[UCLA] would evaluate [Jake] to see how effective [the program] was, and it really did help him learn to deal with it through cognitive behavior therapy,” Gary Hutton said.
At the time that Jake Hutton enrolled in the program, he was in the middle of his third season as a member of the men’s swim team at Cal Lutheran.
“Coach Tom Dodd was very forgiving,” Jake Hutton said. “He allowed me to miss practice and get in the water when I could because of my dealings with mental health. And I’m forever grateful for that.”
Campus pastor Melissa Maxwell-Doherty struck a relationship with Jake Hutton and saw an opportunity for him to realize his humanitarian desires after graduation in Quito, Ecuador. Maxwell-Doherty referred him to Cal Lutheran alum Scott Solberg, who is the director at Sun Mountain International, an organization that was established to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of organizations dedicated to improving the environmental well-being of vulnerable households and communities. There, Jake Hutton uses his biology degree by helping with environmental consultation and social enterprise projects. He has been working for the organization since August 2017.
“Ever since he’s been little, he used to talk about doing missionary work,” Sheryl Hutton said. “He has always had a passion to be in that kind of environment and to make a difference.”
He is taking antidepressants to combat his OCD and depression, which he says is progressively improving. He finds happiness in bird watching, which he lists as one of his biggest hobbies.
“The difference between then and now is that I’m more comfortable in my own skin,” Jake Hutton said. “I’ve learned to ignore my thoughts…Now, I don’t have to be afraid of being alone with myself.”