Mom works to prevent teen suicide warning signs — (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH)

SSRI Ed note: Girl given Lexapro becomes suicidal, shoots herself. Mom discovers that SSRIs can cause suicidality but still looks for other answers to "why?".

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Although Taylor Doherty is gone, her presence is everywhere. On March 8, 2007, just 10 days before her 15th birthday, Taylor (affectionately known as “Tay”) took her own life. For her mom, Margo Doherty, the 16 months since Taylor’s death have been a painful journey of hurt, puzzlement and self-recrimination. By sharing Taylor’s story, Margo hopes to educate others about the danger of teen suicide and share the warning signs she realized in hindsight.

Taylor’s father and mother divorced when she was very young. Although she grew up with her mother, she often spent time with her father, who lived just a few miles away. She grew up in a quiet neighborhood in St. Peters, made friends easily and was well-liked.

One teacher told Margo that whenever Taylor was in class, “she lit up the room and made my day.”

Trouble started in her teens. When Taylor was 13, she confided to a few friends that she had been sexually molested when she was 9. They encouraged her to tell her mom, who took Taylor to see a counselor. The counselor recommended a psychiatrist.

In January 2007, just two months before she died, Taylor was prescribed Lexapro for mild depression. On the drug, Taylor seemed to improve, but following a fight with her mom in January, Taylor chose to go live with her dad. A month later, Margo heard from some of Taylor’s friends that they had received text messages from Taylor about suicide. Margo called the police and Taylor was admitted to an in-patient psychiatric center for observation. Although the center discovered that Taylor was suicidal and had been “cutting” herself, she was released four days later. Once Taylor was back home, Margo was careful to spend even more time with her than usual. The two had fun redecorating Taylor’s room at Taylor’s request. Taylor had outpatient visits three times a week and seemed to be getting better. Margo will never forget waving goodbye to her 10 days later as she dropped her off at school. Later that morning, Taylor left school, texted all her friends goodbye, went out into a nearby field and shot herself.

In hindsight

Soon after the suicide, Margo found out that Taylor had spoken about suicide often with a new group of friends at school. As she had grown more troubled, she had found friends who were also hurting and who she knew would not tell her mom about her suicidal plans. Before her first text messages in February, Taylor had given at least one friend 19 suicide notes to be distributed to various people after her death and told this friend that she had Googled “How to use a shotgun.”

Margo, like many family members of suicide victims, says she is plagued by haunting questions every day: What if Taylor had never been molested? What if she had known earlier about the molestation? What if she had not allowed Taylor to take the Lexapro?

Lexapro is known to increase suicidal ideation in a small percentage of those who take it. It now comes with a “black box warning” about suicide risk. Margo wants all parents to carefully consider all the options before putting their children on prescription antidepressants and to watch their child vigilantly for suicidal symptoms if they do begin the treatment.

Moving forward

Six months after Taylor’s death, Margo ran into a family friend from 30 years ago. Their renewed friendship turned to love, and he and his 16-year-old daughter recently moved in. She feels strongly that Taylor is somehow behind the chance meeting that brought them back together and sees other ways that Taylor is “letting them all know that she is OK.”

She has joined the CHADS coalition, an advocacy and support group that seeks to advance the knowledge and prevention of adolescent depression and suicide through awareness, education and research.

Margo hopes to help others avoid her family’s tragedy.

“There is not a minute of the day that I don’t wish she were back here with me,” she said.