Decoding Teenage Depression
Gail Griffith's son, Will, 16, had been a popular, hardworking student and, at 6-foot-1, enjoyed playing on his high school intramural basketball team. But in the fall of 2000 his mood began to change. "His gait slowed down, as if he were covered in molasses," says his mother. "His speech became disjointed. He didn't react to jokes anymore, couldn't sleep, and lost weight. It was as if he were evaporating before my eyes."
Will had recently moved in with his mom, stepfather, and stepbrother in Washington, D.C., after living with his father in California, and had enrolled in a new school. Griffith figured her son just needed time to adjust. Then one night in December of that same year, she found him lying facedown on his bed, books and papers strewn about him, his eyes red from crying. "I just can't do this anymore," he said, seemingly referring to the pressures of school. Griffith, who was being treated for depression herself, recognized his anguish. "Sweetie, we can fix this," she reassured him. "We'll get you help."
Will began therapy and started taking a newer-generation antidepressant. But in February, Griffith noticed that her son was having trouble concentrating on his schoolwork and had complained of dizziness and nausea during basketball games. Then the boy announced he wanted to quit school and work full-time while studying for his GED. Although Griffith was devastated, she felt reassured when Will's spirits seemed to brighten. On the evening of Saturday, March 10, he went bowling with his girlfriend and other friends. He arrived home a little before 11 and watched college basketball on TV before heading off to bed.Will's Suicide Attempt
At 10 the next morning, Griffith went to wake Will. She was shocked to find him barely coherent, saliva bubbling from the corners of his mouth. Griffith called an ambulance and while ER doctors tried frantically to stabilize his vital signs, his stepbrother scoured his bedroom. Under Will's bed he found a slew of empty bottles of Will's prescription and suicide notes to four family members and friends. As Will later wrote in his diary, he had swallowed 50 or 60 pills "in two handfuls with a sip of iced tea."
Will's recovery was long and difficult and included nine months in a residential treatment center for adolescents in Montana. But that still makes him one of the lucky ones. Every year, some 2,000 kids between the ages of 10 and 19 succeed in killing themselves. Today Will attends community college in California, enjoys Sunday afternoon baseball games with friends and, under a doctor's care, has discontinued his medication.
Thinking back to that dark night, Griffith is still bewildered by her failure to spot the depth of her son's depression. "If he harbored thoughts of killing himself, he never mentioned it to anyone," she writes in her book, Will's Choice: A Suicidal Teen, a Desperate Mother, and a Chronicle of Recovery. "No one suspected it."
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