Yeshiva Winter Break Marred By Teen Suicide — (The Sun Sentinal)

Original article no longer available

The Sun Sentinal

Written by Avi Frier

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

In an apparent suicide, a twelfth grader at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach in Woodmere, NY, jumped from the eleventh floor of a Miami beachfront hotel this past Friday.

Philip “Tuli” Kagan, of Lawrence, NY, was spending the Yeshiva winter break in Miami with his father. According to a preliminary report released Monday to the Florida Jewish News by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner, witnesses observed him jump from the eleventh floor of the hotel to the alley below at approximately 11:50 AM. He was pronounced dead on the scene. The medical examiner ruled his death a suicide.

Police Captain Greg Roy was the first officer to arrive on the scene. After Kagan was pronounced dead, Roy went to the boy’s room, where he met his father, Howard Kagan, and informed him of his son’s death. Kagan told Roy that his son had a history of depression for which he had been taking medication, but that nothing had occurred in recent days to spark the suicide. In the police report, however, Kagan is quoted as saying that his son had been depressed for the past two days.

“There is no single cause of suicide,” said Dr. Tom Hunter, a pediatric/adolescent psychiatrist with a private practice in Coral Gables. “Suicidal behavior is often complex and complicated. And we only have the father’s perspective. Vacation itself can be stressful, and there could have been other stressors that the father didn’t know about.”

Tuli Kagan was buried Sunday in Hewlett, NY.

Speaking at the funeral, Rabbi Yisroel Kaminetsky, principal of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach D.R.S. Yeshiva High School for Boys, described Tuli as someone who attached himself to the needs of others, who was always there to give a fellow student a ride somewhere when he needed one, and would do anything for his friends. Even on his trip to Florida, Rabbi Kaminetsky recounted, Tuli “invited some friends to spend time with him and his father, and he knew they had nowhere to stay, so he booked a hotel room for them without telling them; he just said he had a place for them.”

Kaminetsky also told of Tuli’s desire to effect his own spiritual and religious growth. “He was totally comfortable coming into my office, to sit down and talk about life’s challenges, things that were going well for him, and things that he wanted to improve. His whole life this past year has been about his desire to improve himself in every way possible.”

But despite his attempts at self-improvement, Tuli was “troubled,” according to “Lisa,” a twelfth grader from Miami Beach, who was in his travel group on a 2006 teen summer tour.

In fact, prior to leaving on the 2006 summer tour, Kagan was hospitalized in New York after he attempted suicide by swallowing a large quantity of pain killers, according to medical records obtained from North Shore Hospital by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner. He had previously been diagnosed with depression and had been taking Lexapro, an anti-depressant, for about a month.

“Lisa” ran into Kagan in Miami Beach the day before his death and recalled thinking that he seemed fine. “I was surprised and happy to see him in such high spirits,” she said.

According to Miami Beach clinical psychologist Dr. Norman Goldwasser, this is not uncommon, and demonstrates the need for vigilance on the part of parents and friends of people who are recovering from depression. “In fact, many depressed, disturbed individuals are too emotionally shut down to do anything about their suicidal thinking and feelings,” Goldwasser said. “Once their energy levels increase, they are actually at a higher risk of committing suicide.”

Grief counselors coordinated by Chai Lifeline were on hand at Hebrew Academy of Long Beach when students returned to school Monday morning, however they were there strictly to deal with the loss; public discussion of suicide was shunned.

“Studies have shown there is no benefit to bringing the whole school together to talk about a suicide,” Hunter said. “It’s better to identify those who are at a greater risk and deal with them one on one.”

But it’s also important not to sweep suicide under the rug, according to Jackie Rosen, founder and Executive Director of the Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention.

“The suicide figures we have available today are off by as much as 50% because so many go unreported,” said Rosen. “Many one-car accidents, overdoses, and falls from high places are classified as accidental because the family insists on covering up the true cause of death.

“But silence is deadly,” Rosen added. “If you don’t talk about it, you are preventing people who suffer from clinical depression—the leading cause of suicide ”from getting the help they so desperately need. You can’t live in reality unless you confront what happened.”

Rosen also said that teens are especially at risk because of the immense pressures that are piled upon them: testing, bullying, being different, pressure to succeed, and limited access to working or traveling parents.

Kagan was the youngest suicide victim Captain Roy has encountered so far in his career as a police officer. “[At this age] you don’t even know enough about life to decide whether or not it’s worth living,” Roy said.