Parents who lost children to suicide share experiences, advice — (Gazette.net) Parents’ Worst Nightmare — (Bethesda Magazine)

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Gazette.net

by Christian Brown | Staff Writer

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Though it is never easy to bring up suicide with a teenager, it is much easier than living with the thought that you could have done something to prevent it.

Two recent suicides ­ one of a former Urbana Middle School student and one of a Virginia teen with ties to Urbana ­ prompted PTSA member Liz Breitsameter to organize a presentation on teen suicide Monday night.

None of the parents who spoke at the presentation are experts in mental health. Rather, they were sharing their personal experiences with the suicides of their children, and encouraging other parents to talk about suicide just as they would alcohol, drugs or sex.

Trish Traylor of Germantown, who lost her son to suicide, said some parents worry that by talking about the issue of suicide, they will be “planting a seed,” as if the mere mention might make their children more likely do harm to themselves.

Traylor said this is not the case, and reaching out to children about the dangers of suicide will help educate, not harm. “That’s a myth,” she said.

Kim Edmands’ 22-year-old son, Bryant, killed himself in May 2006 by jumping off the Monocacy River Bridge on Md. Route 144.

This was particularly painful for Edmands because she is trained in suicide prevention, she said. “Sometimes things can be right in front of you,” she said.

Edmands, of Middletown, urged parents who are worried about behavioral changes in their children to reach out to them. Edmands said the recent murder-suicides of the Billotti-Wood family in Middletown stirred painful memories for her family.

But as Sharon Cardarelli of Rockville knows, sometimes there are no signs.

Cardarelli, one of the parents who gave the presentation, lost her son, Greg, to suicide. Greg was the victim of an online prank in which two acquaintances pretended to be a girl who was interested in Greg, and persuaded him to share personal information. After months of this charade, they spread this information throughout his school. Overcome with embarrassment, Greg drove his car into a tree, killing himself.

“To my knowledge there was nothing I could do,” she said.

Often those children who are labeled “dark, gothic, or troubled” are considered the most likely to commit suicide. Troy Crites of Rockville, whose daughter, Rachel, committed suicide in 2007, said that is “absolutely not the case.”

Crites said both his daughter and her best friend, Rachel Smith, were two active, successful students who were well-liked by their peers.

Crites said that his daughter had exhibited signs of severe depression ­ she was undergoing treatment following an earlier suicide attempt ­ but following improvements in therapy sessions and a positive reaction to anti-depressants, it seemed like Rachel was improving.

Then, she and Rachel Smith disappeared after claiming they were going to watch a movie in Georgetown.

The pair of women was found dead in Rachel Crites’ car on a back road in Loudoun County, Va., after committing suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Crites said his daughter’s apparent emotional improvement was not reflected in her diary entries. He also said that teens don’t commit suicide when they appear to be their most depressed: they don’t generally have the energy to do so. He said teens generally kill themselves when they are feeling better.

He said adults need to watch their children for signs of depression, such as weight loss, weight gain, or falling behind in school.

Also, Crites said it is important to treat depressed children, and to make sure that they stick with it. If a child is prescribed medication for a mental illness, it is vital for parents to ensure that they keep taking it, and to work with psychiatric professionals to make sure the medication is right for the child.

“You have to go through multiple medications until you get it tuned into your kid,” he said.

Urbana Middle School Principal Frank Vetter, who attended the presentation, addressed parental concerns about bullying.

The school is piloting a program, called the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which empowers children and teachers to do something positive about bullying by reporting instances and intervening with bullies to teach them a better way.

Developed in the 1990s by Dan Olweus, a Swedish psychologist, the program encourages the school community to more actively deal with bullying by surveying students to find out where it occurs, and encouraging teachers not to tolerate it, Vetter said.

He said there are many people who overcome bullying without committing suicide, and that underlying mental illness might be a more likely cause for those cases of suicide. In those cases, teachers and parents need to be sensitive to signs of mental illness, he said.

“We need to be careful when we link bullying to suicide,” Vetter said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Ninety percent of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental illness.”

E-mail Christian Brown at chbrown@gazette.net.

 

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Parents’ Worst Nightmare

Bethesda Magazine

By Kathleen Wheaton

March-April 2009

Two years ago, best friends Rachel Crites and Rachel Smith took their own lives. Now, for the first time, the girls’ parents talk about the warning signs they missed.