Dave, I want to start out with you just telling me a little bit about your son, however much you feel comfortable. I just would like the viewers and especially these teenagers to have a sense of what he was like and that he was a real person.
David : Our son David, Jr. was a very intelligent, good young man. In fact, he gave us a, hardly any trouble growing up. He was very studious. He served an L.D.S. mission to (?), Mexico and when he came home from his mission he began studies at B.Y.U. and at that time, uh, he became where he had some problems with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety and so we sought some professional help. And we say a psychiatrist and he prescribed, uh, some medicine for David. Initially he was on Paxil but that didn’t seem to help him very much and he didn’t like the reaction of that and so the doctor changed him to Prozac and then he was changed to Paxil. And Paxil helped him deal with the depression and anxiety pretty much for four, four and a half years. He subsequently graduated from B.Y.U. in chemistry. Met and married a wonderful young lady and about a year later he was accepted to medical school in the Chicago area. And so in the summer of 99’ we helped move them to Chicago. He got set up and enrolled in school and uh, found a psychiatrist out there, continued to get his medicine and see him and also another uh, counselor to meet with and seemed to be doing pretty good. But uh, as he finished his class work and began his rotations, started his third year of medical school it seemed like the medicine wasn’t helping him as much and he was having, you know, some down periods. He uh, skipped a semester. I know my wife went out several times to uh, just stay with him and be with him while his wife worked and while he was struggling to complete his schooling and deal with the depression. Uh, in January of 2001, or 2002 he took a leave of absence from school because he was just having so much trouble and again my wife was out there a lot, early in that year and then I went out and joined her for about a month in uh, May. And it just seemed that nothing was helping. His doctor tried to change and find a medicine that worked and we went through, I think, pretty much the whole gambit, gamut of uh, anti-depressants and other types of uh, medicines to help him. Uh, at the end of May he even got so desperate that he had the doctor admit him to the uh, hospital and he underwent E.C.T. treatments. These helped for maybe for a couple of weeks and then he spiraled down again and uh, during that time he um, was so despondent that he started to attempt uh, once but uh, decided that he wasn’t going to go through with it. But still he was very, very depressed and uh, admitted himself to the hospital again, had additional treatments and we thought everything was uh, was fine and uh, in fact he came out for a visit right uh, before Thanksgiving for a couple of days and , when he returned home to Chicago he was going to see about getting back into school, that’s what he told us and subsequently a couple days of later he took his life.
Dave, what do you want other people to know, it sounds like you and your wife did so much to help your son, I mean you’re, you were there for him and um, went out to Chicago for him, it sounds like every step of the way you were there with him. What message would you like to give to other parents?
Well I think parents of children who are struggling with mental illness and thoughts of suicide need to do a couple of things. Number one, they need to get whatever professional help they can, as much as they can. Uh, medicine and uh, therapy uh, maybe even group counseling, that they need to do that first. Secondly, they need to openly talk to their child and uh, let him or her express whatever feelings they’re having and encourage them that in all the despair that they’re feeling that there is hope, they can be helped and that this is something they can overcome because unfortunately the case with most people who are suffering this way is that they despair, they loss all hope, they feel they’re a burden on their family, which is the furthest thing from the truth and they uh, just need to know that they are loved no matter what and that they will never be given up on by their family.
What also do you think that parents should look for, because in your case it sounds like you had a really open relationship with your son where he would talk to you and talk to your wife, but in cases in like Stacy’s, their son was not communicating so what would you advise parents to look for in their children?
Well, there’s many typical signs that many of the mental health groups and support groups recognize and if your son or daughter is um, all of a sudden sleeping longer, doesn’t want to get out of bed or out of their room uh, or their eating habits have changed uh, either excessive or, or not at all, if they no longer, uh, performing, if their school work takes a sudden dive uh, if they want to close off and not talk to you at all, or not be with their friends uh, or don’t seem to be able to get enthusiastic or up for anything and want to be alone a lot, these are all signs that you really need to sit them down and draw them out. Either you yourself or uh, a mental health professional or a, you know, maybe a uh, religious leader, somebody who has an ability to communicate with your child and who the child respects, someone who can get them to draw out and explain what they’re feeling. Um, when we talk to young people in the schools and discuss and ask the questions uh, we often find that 50% or greater have had thoughts of suicide and their parents don’t know. Many times most of their friends don’t know, maybe just a close person that they would confide in, so we need to look for those signs and, and get them to open up.
It’s amazing that even their close friends, (unintelligible). Shifting gears, just a little bit now, um, I’d like to kind of take the tact of having you talk more to the kids now because a lot of the things that you’ve mentioned, you’re talking more toward the parents and I’d like to um, talk in that more toward the kids, for the peer to peer part of the program. You talked about how intelligent your son was, how bright he was, how he’d taken bio-chemistry and all these different things, often time kids that have problems with mental health are stigmatized. The kids that we talked to that we’re using in the program or that they’ve made the little vignettes, they talk about that. They talk about the stigmatization and the fear of letting other people know. Um, would you address the kids, from your experience about that and how that, how, you know, your son and many of these kids are actually really high achievers.
David : Okay. Uh, if I could say anything to young people it’s that you need to open up to what you’re feeling. You need to confide in your parents or a trusted friend or maybe a parent of your friend and let them know if you’re feeling depressed or if you’re feeling anxious and it’s not just uh, a bad day but it turns into a bad week or bad month and it continues on for any length of time. Another think I’d like them to know uh, is that this uh, depression or bi-polar disorder or anxiety is an actual illness. It’s an illness of your body and mind and it’s should be no more shame attached to that then telling somebody, you know, I feel a lump here in my throat or I have this mole that doesn’t look right. We should go to a doctor and take care of it. You should seek uh, professional medical help for this. And you should not be afraid of admitting that you have uh, a problem this way because it’s only going to be solved by help. If you tell no one and close it off inside it won’t get better, it will only get worse. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a high achiever in school or whether you’re struggling, this kind of problem will strike anyone. It’s like cancer or heart disease, or diabetes. It doesn’t matter if you live in the rich part of town or in more humble circumstances. It doesn’t matter whether you’re white, black or brown, whether you’re religious or not religious. It can hit anyone and you need to make sure that if you have a friend who is struggling with something like this or has told you that they have thoughts of suicide or feel like they could take their own life, you can’t just close that off and say that you’re going to be loyal to that friend by not telling anyone because that’s not being loyal. They’re so sick that they need help and if they won’t tell someone, you need to help them by telling someone.
That was very good. Thank you. We talked about the problem that boys have with communicating and I know in this sense that’s what your son was atypical and because you had such a good relationship with him, but I know that from what you told me on the phone it’s often difficult to get men to attend group (he clears throat) sessions, support group. Could you talk a little bit about that and maybe just address the whole issue because the rate of course of teen numbers is so high among young men. Could you talk about that a little bit and what these young men need to know.
David : Sure. Uh, you know, our society um, with the male as the bread winner, the males typically in law enforcement or the military and even in sports, we’re taught from the time we’re little boys to be tough, don’t cry, if you get hurt pick yourself up and shake it off and go on. And this is okay, as it should be, uh, but when you get into a serious illness uh, if a young man or young boy develops cancer uh, his buddies or his parents or the adults aren’t going to tell him to get and shake it off. Well the same thing is true with a serious mental illness. You can’t just shake off depression or bi-polar disorder. It takes very specialized uh, treatment and helped but you can do that and you can get well but you have to be able to recognize that you do have a serious illness, that you do need help. And it’s not that you’re strong or manly or macho but it’s that you have a serious illness. And the same for grown men who see this in their family or they’ve suffered it themselves, um, if you had an arm that was uh, you know, injured or all of a sudden it was numb and you, you couldn’t use it anymore, you wouldn’t just slough it off. Well if your, if your mind is paining you and you’re struggling to where you can’t perform or complete your tasks or even think about the things that you need to do, you need to recognize that as a signal from your body that you need help and it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help and to get the help that you need to become well.
Um, we kind of addressed this a little bit in one of the answers that you gave a little while ago but um, often times and you said your son would express this, the teens everyone would be better off without them. Would you talk a little bit about how your families been impacted and, because one of the things that um, as we talked with some of the experts, Dr. Douglas Gray and uh, others, have said they really want to get out the message that suicide is a mistake, it’s not a solution, it’s a mistake and it sends ripples through the entire family. Would you talk a little bit about how it’s impacted your family?
David : Um, I don’t think I have words to adequately describe how devastating um, it was to receive that phone call that our son had died, that he’d taken his life. Um, my wife and I would talk with him and he would tell us sometimes, you know, I just, I don’t think I’m going to get better. You guys would be better off without me. I just feel like I’m worthless. And of course, nothing is further from the truth. Uh, he was an integral part of our family. He was so loved by his sisters, my wife and I, our extended family and uh, had such an impact upon even others in his medical school, as evidenced by some comments made at his memorial there. And I think that it’s natural, in a way, for a person who’s struggling with this to feel like, well I must be doing something wrong. I must not be strong enough. I must not have enough faith or I could get well. The medicines should help me or somebody else I know got well. But the fact is, it’s, it’s really, um, irrational thinking uh, to think that you would be better off uh, your family would be better off if you took your own life because families are devastated. Um, we just miss him so much and there’s so much good that each family member provides the rest of their family and that loss it’s never gone. It may diminish a little with time, where the pain isn’t so raw but anyone who thinks that their family or loved ones would be better off if they were gone is so mistaken.
That was really well put, thank you. Um, you’ve worked so much in the community, Dave, I mean what you’re doing and speaking out and everything, um, to talk to these educators, to the parents and to the community groups that we hope will see this video and access the um, information resources, (he clears throat) what could you say to them that, that schools and communities can do to best support their kids? I know that’s pretty big question but just from your perspective because you’ve been involved with the Provo School District Initiative, as well as your own, um group. What do you thinks important for communities to do?
David : Well I think communities, uh, and, and people in general need to have two things. Number one, they need to have education about mental illness because the first step to de-stigmatize mental illness, is going to go be a very good understanding among education, uh, educators and the community at large. That these are real illnesses, they’re just like any serious physical illness. The persons who contract these illnesses don’t do so because of any um, ill um, any characteristic that they inherited in their family or because of things that they may have done wrong or because there are any ethnic group or any religious group or any social group, it just has nothing to do with that. It is indiscriminant just as so many of the serious physical illnesses. So the first thing is we need to educate uh, the public at large that this is not because someone is a certain way or has done something wrong. It just happens. You just got sick and it’s mental rather then physical. Uh, secondly, I think that we (sighs), do you want to stop there for a minute. I’m going to gather my thoughts on this. Uh, (unintelligible) I lost what I was trying to say.
You started out by saying that …..
David : I, I guess the second thing is that, um, they need to know families and individuals need to know that there are, um, many uh, sources of help. There are uh, medical outreach um, mental health outreach support groups and there are, every year, uh, newer and better medicines being discovered that can help these mood swings and these severe depressions and the other problems that we associate with mental illness. And so, I guess the second thing is that we need to make sure that these individuals who are suffering with some of these things uh, know that we’re there to help and that there is hope and help available.
We kind of touched on this but um, not super indepth um, when you and I and Liz were talking on the couch outside, we talked about this whole thing about the church and it’s not just the L.D.S. church but other churches too, sometimes um, there are, oh, myths or whatever put forth that um, a person, if they commit suicide it’s because they’ve sinned or, you know, if they have a mental illness it’s because it’s a sin or they didn’t have enough faith or they didn’t pray hard enough, and um, you um, again, you’ve kind of touched on it but would you kind of address that directly because what you said outside was, I thought was very good.
David : Okay. Um, unfortunately in our society and uh, here in the United States we, we’re originally a fairly religious society as these groups broke away from the European continent to find religious freedom here. But in doing so there were a lot of uh, etics and uh superstitions and beliefs that were held closely but not really based in any fact or actually in any uh, uh, source from the Bible or other religious books. And one of those was that if you, a person who took his own life uh, some religions were equating that with murder, uh, murder of self and that the person who did that was doomed to eternal damnation. Uh, that actually has no basis in, in religious doctrine in anything that, that I know of. And more and more um, as religious leaders, as well as others, are being more enlightened about it, um, they’ve come to now tell their congregations that really we don’t have the answers. Uh, those who believe in a Supreme Being uh, must also believe in a, an all wise and all merciful Being. And a person who commits suicide uh, is not, uh, not thinking rationally, does not have full control of his thoughts or actions and therefore really can’t be judge uh, because this is not a rational act. And so we need to provide empathy and understanding and love and support to those families who have lost loved ones and give them hope because in the end uh, it’s going to be our Maker who’s going to decide, you know, whose life was right with him or whose life was not. It’s certainly not anything that we have the capacity to judge and shouldn’t.
And also you talked about um…(Break in tape)….
David : …she struggles and her parents too. Her family.
Cause I just think it’s so difficult for someone, for someone’s kids and I know that that’s why Jake decided to do his (unintelligible). Cause he (unintelligible). Okay. Go ahead and talk about that.
David : Uh, unfortunately uh, a lot of people who do hold strong religious beliefs, uh, feel like someone who has uh, depression, a lot of times, it’s felt that well this family uh, didn’t pray enough or they didn’t have enough faith or they’re not living right. Uh, it seems like it’s easy to have empathy for a child who is killed in an automobile accident or some other way but if there’s a family whose child takes their own life uh, people kind of give a second look and say gee I wonder what’s wrong with in that family or what was wrong with that person. When the reality is a severely depressed person is oft times without hope. It doesn’t mean that they’re not, uh, not a believing person. It doesn’t mean that they don’t pray. It doesn’t mean that they don’t receive enough love from their family. It’s just that this illness is so overwhelming that they can’t see that there’s uh, uh, a good end or that there can be a happy outcome. They can’t see anything beyond the pain and because of that they end up sometimes taking their own life.
(Very faint – hard to hear) I think that you’ve answered all
my questions. (Unintelligible)
Is there anything that you would like to add?
David : Um, I would just hope that those who watch these segments, this program, would come away understanding that these serious mental illnesses are to be no more shunned or shied away from then any serious physi, physical illness. That it seems like our nation and communities have rallied to support research for and find cures for and we need the same type of support and uh, effort put forth to combat mental illness and to educate uh, ourselves and the public at large about suicide and what we can do to educate people about it and to prevent it because it’s a tragedy that doesn’t need to happen.