Tragedy of depression – Local mom copes with death of son

Original article no longer available

The Chicago Tribune

 September 29, 2008


ELGIN — Almost six months ago, 17-year-old Andre Marcinczyk had just finished texting his friends about going to the movies. After that, he filled out some job applications.

Meanwhile, his mother, Patti, and his then 18-year-old brother, Brandon, were in the living room watching TV.

Patti got up and checked on Andre. She found him without a pulse lying on his bed with his neck tied to the bedpost.

“I went into shock,” said Patti. “You just stop thinking, and I started CPR. Brandon called 911.”

“I was in disbelief,” Patti continued as emotion filled her voice. “Your brain just takes a picture of that moment, and everything that comes into your brain after that doesn’t know where to go.”

“It’s a nightmare,” said Patti, who acknowledged that Andre had battled depression since seventh grade. He had been seeing a psychiatrist for about a year prior to his death and was on anti-depressants.

But “his grades were climbing, and he was becoming more social,” said Patti. “I just thought he was doing better, I thought it was OK to exhale. He never once ever said, ‘I was wish I would die.’ He never alluded to that and consistently denied having suicidal thoughts.”

“If I would’ve known what I know now, I never would’ve exhaled, I would’ve been more vigilant about talking with him,” said Patti.

The aftermath

Experts say Andre’s suicide fit a pattern among many young men his age. In fact, it is the third leading cause of death of those age 15 to 24.

Without him here, life’s been difficult, said Patti.

“I think your body goes into self-preservation,” she continued. “I for a while just couldn’t talk. I was on anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications.”

“I don’t remember coming home from the hospital; and his wake — a lot of that has been pieced together by the family, I blocked it out,” said Patti. “After that, there were days of people coming over and visiting and dropping off food and staying with you.

“But it sinks in as that stuff starts to fade away. Everything is still there (Andre’s belongings). I touch his clothes and smell his shirts. I slept in his room for two months.”

“I talk to him all of the time now,” said Patti, excitement in her voice as she tells of feeling Andre’s presence. “I didn’t feel him for a long time. There was this numbing hysteria inside of me. You never think you’ll lose you child, much less in a way like that.”

Patti said she takes life “day by day” now.

“It (Andre’s death) hits me every minute of every day,” she said. “All the days used to be bad. It comes like a tidal wave, and you can be doing OK and then it (memory of him) swoops down and knocks you right down and you stop dead in your tracks.”

“I can’t tell you how many grocery stores I’ve walked out of crying or how many times I’ve walked to my car after work in tears,” said Patti.

“I just talk to him, and I read to him” letters that several of his classmates at Elgin High School had written in memory of him.

“We always had a favorite Chinese place we’d go to after a Willow Creek service,” she continued. “I haven’t been able to go to that place; it’s just too much. Someday.”

“Hearing little boys’ voices that sound like him trigger me to cry,” Patti continued barely able to speak as tears overcame her. “Or seeing teenage boys like his age, I think to myself, ‘I just hope you’re OK,’ because there’s so much that goes on in those teenage minds and walking by, you just never can tell.”

Indicators there

Patti said she knew something wasn’t right with Andre earlier, around his freshman year, because his grades started slipping and he isolated himself from others.

These indicators fall right into what Len Lempa — a licensed clinical social worker who does initial depression assessment at Provena Saint Joseph Hospital in Elgin — defines as signs that an adolescent is depressed. He added others to that list, including a lack of energy, not feeling excited, boredom, and mood changes that last a couple of weeks or months.

However, Lempa said there’s not one simple answer to finding out what’s causing an adolescent to be depressed. He said the “perfect storm of depression” hits many teenagers. They could be dealing with many issues including relationship stresses, their inability to get along with family members, their lack of a good social support network, bullying and isolation.

There isn’t “any one kind of magic bullet to cure all depression,” Lempa said.

He advised that parents start off by taking an adolescent who may be depressed to get counseling and psychotherapy before getting on anti-depressants.

If they’re constantly threatening to hurt themselves, Lempa said, the teenager’s body chemistry needs to be changed quickly through anti-depressants. But he also said medication won’t solve everything. Lempa said outside factors including stresses related to family, relationship problems and genetics also could contribute to depression, which anti-depressants won’t knock out.

Lempa said anti-depressants can be “risky” when adolescents are really depressed.

“The anti-depressant can start to do some of its work, but the kid still feels lousy,” said Lempa. “But now they have the energy to do something about it.”

Whether this happened in Andre’s case is unknown. Despite the best treatments out there, Lempa said, the impulsive nature of adolescents makes it “unlikely that any drug or amount of therapy can eliminate suicide amongst that part of the population.”