Paige: We must learn from McKinley's death — (The Denver Post)

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The Denver Post

Sept. 12, 2010

By Woody Paige

Colorado, which typically has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, had a record 940 deaths by suicide last year. ­ The Denver Post,

Why would a smart, personable, resolute, “happy-go-lucky” Kenny McKinley ­ with a college education, a young son, a $385,000 contract and a bright future in football and life ­ commit suicide Sept. 20, 2010?


I think I understand why.

I know an older man who eight years ago this month was committed to committing suicide.


The last, desperate, despondent, despicable act was all planned out. The Broncos were playing on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2002, against the 49ers. I would fly into San Francisco the day before, drive up to Napa Valley, enjoy a bottle of expensive red wine and check into a nice inn. The next morning I would head over to the coast and swim out in the Pacific Ocean far enough that I couldn’t make it back to the beach.

My death would be termed an “accidental drowning,” and my family and few friends would be horrified, but spared the humiliation.

I figured out the details while lying on the sofa staring at the ceiling for hours, as I did daily, and swallowing the pills a prominent Denver psychiatrist had prescribed over a period of months ­ Prozac, Ritalin, Xanax, Valium, Ambien and Zoloft and swilling Jack Daniel’s.

I had everything to live for, but wanted nothing more than to die.

I was suffering from deep depression.

Gil Whiteley, who is a brother to me and had a key to my place, showed up and said: “You’ve got to do something.”

I replied: “I’m going to San Francisco.”

Instead, he called my longtime friend and family doctor, Allen Schreiber (who also has been a physician for the Nuggets, the Avalanche and currently the Rockies), and shoved the phone in my face. “I have a problem, Allen.”

Dr. Schreiber checked me into a private room on the secured maternity floor at a Denver hospital. The nurses took away my pills, my belt, my razor and my fingernail clippers. (“I’m not about to clip myself to death.”)

That night Dr. Schreiber prescribed one red pill. “What is this?” I asked the nurse. “I’m addicted to a lot of medications.”

“Benadryl,” she said.

“But I don’t have a runny nose.”

It turned out that I had diabetes, which causes low serotonin levels in the brain ­ and depression.

I am so fortunate. Allen and Gil were there when I needed help. They saved my life. I am not depressed. I never want to die.

Break your leg, and you can tell. Break your brain, and it’s not so evident.

Fifteen percent of the population in this country suffers from depression.

Many of them contemplate, or try to commit, suicide.

Several thousand of them do kill themselves annually.

The number of young men (15-24) who have committed suicide in the U.S. has risen dramatically over the past 50 years. The highest numbers of suicides are committed using firearms.

Why did the 23-year-old Kenny McKinley commit suicide with a gun?

He believed it was the only way out of his misery, and he chose to do it. That’s why.

Truth is, there is nothing romantic, heroic, strong or good about committing suicide. We mourn Kenny Mc-Kinley’s death. We hope that we learn from his suicide.

According to those close to McKinley, there were no outward indications of trouble. He had been cheerful at Broncos headquarters. He received an ovation when introduced at a recent game at the University of South Carolina, where he was the team’s all-time leading receiver. He seemed OK, two friends said, when he returned to Denver with his son Sunday. He appeared to be fine Monday when the friends went off to eat.

The demons of depression come out when you’re alone, when you have nothing to do.

But Kenny displayed some of the prominent, potential suicide warning signs: Low mood, depression, despair and an expression of a wish to die.

Police investigators discovered that Kenny had been depressed because of a second straight season-ending knee injury that put him on the injured reserve list. After the surgery, Kenny had said he should kill himself, and listeners doubted his words.

He was found in bed, and the aroma of marijuana was present in the room. He did kill himself.

Kenny McKinley’s symptoms were not understood. He needed help. His life was not saved.

In loving memory of Kenny McKinley, no longer ask “Why?” ­ ask “What can we do to save thousands of others in Colorado?”

Woody Paige: 303-954-1095 or