PORTLAND – Seth Jordan was bright, generous and industrious, a shining star at Portland High School and in the small community of Long Island, where he grew up.

He also wrestled with bipolar disorder from the time he was 17. The illness led to substance abuse and psychosis.

He was discharged from Spring Harbor Hospital in 2002, after his fourth psychotic episode.

His father, Bob Jordan, couldn’t get him past his paranoia to check into another hospital.

“Two weeks later he was dead” from a methadone overdose, said Bob Jordan.

Now, in Seth Jordan’s memory, his family is helping to fund a new position at Shalom House: a case manager who is dedicated to helping people with mental illness transition from Spring Harbor’s psychiatric hospital to outpatient treatment and other support systems.

“This kind of program could have saved his life,” said Jordan, speaking at a celebration of the new program at Shalom House’s group home on O’Brion Street, now named Seth Jordan House. He was flanked by his wife, Nancy, and his son Zeke.

A gift from the Jordan family and the JTG Foundation have fully funded the position, support staffing and related expenses — $62,000 a year — for more than two years.

The nonprofit mental health agency expects that its importance will keep the position funded into the future, said Shalom House’s executive director, Mary Haynes-Rodgers.

Similar positions existed many years ago, before widespread cutbacks in social services, said Ed Blanchard, a social worker who is clinical director for Shalom House.

The case manager will help people with severe mental illness apply for the services they are entitled to, work to make sure they keep appointments, and generally ensure that they don’t fall through the cracks, he said.

The challenge is often that people who are ill are reluctant to seek help, or are outright resistant to it — a byproduct of the illness.

“Sometimes there’s nothing you can do,” said Haynes-Rodgers. “The person with the mental illness has to want the help.”

That means the days immediately after hospitalization can be crucial in keeping somebody out of a downward spiral that makes them even harder to help.

There is seldom money to pay for such case management. Even private insurance typically does not cover it, said David Dearborn, who was chosen to be the new case manager.

The Shalom House program could become a model for similar work elsewhere, said Dennis King, president and CEO of Spring Harbor Hospital in South Portland.

King said he is optimistic because the country’s new health care law encourages such approaches to improve the continuity of care, making health care more effective and more efficient by reducing costly hospitalizations.

It may also keep people alive, and give them a chance to live productive lives.

The Jordans’ gift was not just financial.

Their painful experience, and the pride and joy that was Seth Jordan, shows how mental illness can strike any family.

Bob Jordan told how his son excelled in sports and in school, but was humble and didn’t call attention to his success.

He recalled how, after his first hospitalization for psychosis, when he was just 17, Seth was discharged and immediately threw himself into his lawn-mowing business — which enabled him to buy a Corvette in his junior year of high school.

Helped by medication, Seth Jordan graduated from Duke University and took a job in Portland as a stockbroker. But his illness and associated substance abuse cost him his career.

He left his home on April 13, 2002, telling his parents he was going for a walk. He was found dead of a methadone overdose the next day. He was 27.

Speaking to more than 100 people, the Jordans insisted that Friday’s ceremony was not a sad occasion, even though it brought back memories of their son and his illness.

Nancy Jordan told friends, advocates and consumers of mental health services that her son’s death will always make her sad, but talking about the illness that affected him and so many others helps reduce the stigma of mental illness.

“It’s got to be talked about or it won’t change,” she said.

Being reminded of her son’s life also gives her comfort, she said.

“Every time you talk to us about him, you’re acknowledging that he lived,” she said. “You acknowledge his life, and that’s a huge, huge gift.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:
[email protected]