The struggle to regain balance

Special Report: 'Trying to reach Jon'

OCC student Jon Ludlow went from child athlete to adult depressive. Physicians, family, friends couldn't shield him.

April 05, 2014|By Emily Foxhall
  • Jon Ludlow suffered from delusions and paranoia after he abruptly ceased taking his mental health medications in December.
Jon Ludlow suffered from delusions and paranoia after… (Ludlow family )

First of three parts.

Almost a whole day had passed, and still Melissa Ludlow hadn't heard from her son. She checked her silent phone again, trying to imagine the reasons he wouldn't respond.

Didn't he know how to work the phone that she had lent him? Had he lost it?

Her missing son, Jon, was her youngest. The mom and her husband, Dave, both 55, had raised four other children before him.

But that didn't make the worrying any easier. Jon, a 19-year-old Orange Coast College student, had recently been experiencing mental health symptoms that none of Melissa's other children ever had.

In Jon's world, street gangs and the National Security Agency together tracked him. He thought employees in Forever 21, or "corporate people" as he called them, took note of what he looked at on the clothing racks.


FBI agents also followed him, Jon insisted. He even went to the local FBI office to prove it, offering them evidence in the patterns of cars and people he had noticed.

Jon had battled major depression and social anxiety disorder for years, but the delusions had begun when Jon stopped taking his prescribed medications — Prozac, Adderall and Xanax — without heeding a physician's and his family's advice to slowly taper his intake.

He wasn't acting like himself. The abrupt change caused a psychotic break, introducing underlying conditions of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Melissa couldn't figure out how to rein him back into reality. Because Jon had already turned 18, he could not be forced into treatment by his parents unless he met strict qualification standards — a legal issue officials in the field refer to as the "age 18 cliff."

Instead, Melissa handled each crisis when it arose, never imagining they were building toward a tragic end. As night fell, she did what any concerned mother would do: She went to look for her son.


Early in Jon's life, nothing about his behavior concerned Melissa or Dave.

Jon was born on Sept. 2, 1994, when the Ludlows lived in Modesto. He moved with his family to Utah when he was a toddler.

By first grade, Jon was already the smartest in the class, said his boyhood friend Griffin Taggart.

His peer could read a whole page of a Harry Potter novel in one minute, while it took Griffin that long to get through the first sentence, he recalled.

Sports came to him as easily as academics. As they grew older, Jon proved the fastest in track and a valuable running back in football.

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