August 23, 2005
The decision by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to issue a so-called black-box warning concerning the use of antidepressants for adolescents has left many families attempting to deal with the mental illness of a child with even more uncertainty about possible lifesaving treatment options.
Gail Griffith's book, Will's Choice: A Suicidal Teen, a Desperate Mother, and a Chronicle of Recovery, provides a stunning portrait of a family struggling to deal with a son's suicide attempt and battle with major depressive disorder. Part memoir, part social commentary, part resource guide, Griffith's book addresses the multitude of issues -- emotional, financial, medical, bureaucratic -- families face in the aftermath of a suicide attempt.
Heartbreakingly honest, Griffith includes family letters, medical evaluations, and most importantly, journal entries written by Will and his girlfriend Megan, who also suffers from depression and cuts herself to ease the pain, while chronicling their road to recovery. Beginning with the discovery of Will following his near-fatal suicide attempt through his hospitalization and his road to recovery, Griffith details the emotions she and her family experience. "Will's suicide attempt forced me to reevaluate all of the fundamental percepts: love and family ties, parenting and relationships, wellness and treatment. I had trusted my instincts and, boy, I could not have been further off the mark. Would I ever feel grounded again? Would any of us?" she asks.
Throughout the book, Griffith also provides practical advice for parents garnered from her own experiences and research about the most recent science of suicidality and adolescent depression. Speaking of the FDA hearings, of which she took part as a consumer member of the panel, and resulting black-box warnings, Griffith states, "Knowing what I now know about the potential risks, would I still encourage an aggressive treatment regime including SSRIs to counter adolescent depression? Would I have supported our doctor's pursuit of the 'right' formula for Will prior to and after his suicide attempt? Yes, I would." Griffith recommends that parents become as informed as possible about their child's medications as well as be vigilant in monitoring any drastic changes in behavior.
A year after his suicide attempt, Will received his high school diploma and left his residential treatment facility to return home.
"And so what if the depression comes back? It's nothing new, right? I would be hard-pressed to handle it worse than I handled it the first time," Will writes. "I've pieced my sanity back together and the cracks have faded over time. If it comes apart again, I'll fix it again. But like a puzzle I've already solved, I now know where the pieces go."
Griffith currently is scheduled to speak in October at the NAMI New York state conference, as well as NAMI Montgomery County, Maryland's heroes dinner. NAMI leaders who wish to inquire about possible speaking engagements may contact her at email@example.com. See also www.willschoice.net.
NAMI's Child and Adolescent Action Center recently published a family guide on adolescent depression and treatment options. To download a copy of the guide, visit the CAAC Web site at www.nami.org/adolescentdepression.
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