Will's Choice: A Suicidal Teen, a Desperate Mother, and a Chronicle of Recovery

Will's Choice: A Suicidal Teen, a Desperate Mother, and a Chronicle of Recovery

by Gail Griffith
     
 

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On March 11, 2001, seventeen-year-old Will ingested a near-fatal dose of his antidepressant medication, an event that would forever change his life and the lives of his family. In Will's Choice, his mother, Gail Griffith, tells the story of her family's struggle to renew Will's interest in life and to regain their equilibrium in the

Overview

On March 11, 2001, seventeen-year-old Will ingested a near-fatal dose of his antidepressant medication, an event that would forever change his life and the lives of his family. In Will's Choice, his mother, Gail Griffith, tells the story of her family's struggle to renew Will's interest in life and to regain their equilibrium in the aftermath.

Griffith intersperses her own finely wrought prose with dozens of letters and journal entries from family and friends, including many from Will himself. A memoir with a social conscience, Will's Choice lays bare the social and political challenges that American families face in combating this most mysterious and stigmatized of illnesses. In Gail Griffith, depressed teens have found themselves a formidable advocate, and in the evocative and fiercely compelling narrative of Will's Choice, we all discover the promise of a second chance.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
There has been much controversy recently about whether antidepressants cause children and teens to become suicidal; this is the saga of one mother's nightmare-one that still leaves her believing antidepressants have a role to play in treating depression. Four years ago, Griffith's 17-year-old son, Will, attempted suicide by overdosing on the antidepressant Remeron. Will had previously been treated for depression, but had never been suicidal. Griffith describes the effect of the suicide attempt on herself, her husband (Will's stepfather) and Will's girlfriend, Megan, who was addicted to cutting herself. The author is painfully honest about her own battle with depression at age 40, and excerpts from Will's and Megan's diaries are heartrending. Although this is but a single case and so sheds little light on the relative benefits and dangers of antidepressant use, parents will find it instructive in how to recognize and respond to a child's depression. The book is also a plea to society to recognize that depression is a serious but treatable illness: after a stint in a residential treatment center that combined therapy and medication, Will emerged from his depression and now attends college. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 2001, Griffith's promising yet unsettled son, Will, became one of the approximately 2000 American teens who attempt suicide every day. The author, an activist in international humanitarian and arts causes who has also served on an FDA advisory committee, explores the causes of Will's underlying depression and reveals his relationship with a sketchily described girlfriend (Megan) who indulged in various forms of self-harm. Once stabilized, Will was enrolled in a therapeutic school, where he apparently thrived despite initial trepidation. Griffith's stirring prose is supplemented by Megan's and Will's own reflections on their trauma; statistics and research on teen suicide and depression are integrated into the text along with useful and possibly life-saving advice for parents. The author also discusses the conundrum of treatment for adolescent depression, highlighting its high cost and current controversies about the risks of medicating children. Above all, this is a powerful personal story about a young man who finds a way to embrace life again. Highly recommended for public libraries and consumer mental health collections.-Antoinette Brinkman, MLS, Evansville, IN Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In this beautifully written and gripping account, readers learn a great deal about adolescent depression. On March 11, 2001, Griffith discovered that life had become so unbearable for her 17-year-old son that he took an overdose of antidepressants in a failed suicide attempt. Denial about what Will tried to do became determination to help him to recover and to control the emotions that led him to that moment. Griffith talks about the warning signs of a suicidal teen, the controversy concerning teens and the use of antidepressants, and the potential difficulties of identifying the right treatment program. Throughout the book, she is honest about her feelings of failure and of feeling lost. In 1991, she was diagnosed with major depression and realized that she had been fighting a mood disorder all of her adult life. The inclusion of segments of Will's journal and those of his girlfriend, who suffered similarly, helps to keep their voices in the forefront. This account has much to offer adults who may encounter a depressed teenager or teens themselves, including a list of organizational resources and a list of suggested reading and references.-Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
First-timer Griffith provides an intimate account of adolescent depression. In 2001, Griffith's son Will, 17, tried to kill himself by overdosing on his antidepressants. The first chapter, recounting Griffith's finding her near-comatose son in bed and rushing him to the hospital, is gripping, grueling and entrancing. As Griffith recounts his recovery, she makes elegant detours to consider her divorce and remarriage, the frankly marvelous co-parenting she and her ex worked out, and her own struggle with clinical depression. Decorating her account are letters between Will and his parents, snippets of doctors' reports, excerpts from Will's journal and, most rewardingly, letters and diary pages by Will's girlfriend, who herself wrestled with depression (she was a self-mutilating "cutter" during the months she and Will dated) and who is an emerging writer in her own right. But this isn't mere memoir. It's also reportage and social criticism, with a little self-help thrown in about how to recognize depression in a teenager; the pros and cons of SSRIs; and suppositions about why so many kids today are depressed. Griffith also exposes the inexcusable (if not wholly surprising) flaws and fault-lines in the mental health care world. Though that world is staffed by many devoted and compassionate doctors-you'll meet some in these pages-it is ill-prepared, in the main, to handle depression among adolescents. The FDA remains fuzzy about the effects of antidepressants on teenagers; inpatient treatment centers for juvenile patients are extremely expensive to operate and are consequently closing their doors; and, if Griffith's experience is representative, the insurance industry isn't exactly sweet onsuicidal teenagers. All this is laced with shocking statistics (each day, 2,000 young people between 13 and 18 attempt suicide). But the text never becomes morose, thanks in part to Griffith's light hand as a word-smither and her often winsome turns of phrase ("Girls were drawn to him like ants to a glazed donut"). A knowledgeable guide's revelatory report on a disturbing phenomenon.
Andrew Solomon
“This is a book about the struggle to supplement love with wisdom in the face of great pain.”
Judith Guest
“Ground-breaking...If this book serves as a wake-up call, it is truly one that could save lives.
Paul Raeburn
“Perceptive and instructive...a valuable document in the fight for better health care for our mentally ill children.”
Emmylou Harris
“A courageous and unflinching chronicle .... A beautifully written handbook of help and hope.”
Washingtonian Magazine
“A comfort and resource for people of any age struggling out of that pitch-dark place of the soul.”
Washington Post Book World
“Powerful prose...Griffith educates and empathizes. With the story of Will’s choice—life—she gives hope to families in crisis.”
Albuquerque Journal
“A heartbreaking and hopeful account that highlights a public health crisis in dire need of attention.”
Psychiatric News
“A look inside the minds of a patient and his family, and...an excellent teaching tool for clinicians.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062013798
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/08/2010
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
112,903
File size:
440 KB

Read an Excerpt

Will's Choice
A Suicidal Teen, a Desperate Mother, and a Chronicle of Recovery

Chapter One

The Bears Downstairs

10:00 AM, March 11, 2001

A mother's sixth sense is attuned to her child's atmospherics like a cat before an electrical storm. I sensed something wrong the instant I opened the door to his room. Normally, there were heaps of clothing, towels, and books strewn about. This morning it was preternaturally clean.

In the split second before reason takes over from reaction, I felt trouble on my skin. A branch from the blossoming pear tree in front of our Dupont Circle row house scraped rhythmically against the glass, tapping in code: Trouble, trouble.

"Willo, I want you up now so you can say good-bye to Jane." I used the tone that leaves no room for equivocation -- the tone a mother uses to coax a teenager out of bed.

It was Sunday morning and Will had been up late watching college basketball with his stepsister, Jane, who was home from college for spring break. Usually, I am loath to wake a sleeping teenager on a weekend morning, but I knew Will would want to see Jane off before she and her roommate embarked on the eight-hour drive back to school.

"Will" -- I crept closer to his bed -- "Jane's about to leave. You need to go downstairs now if you want to say good-bye."

Just as I reached the edge of his bed, he lurched violently to one side. I caught a glimpse of what looked like saliva bubbling around the corners of his mouth. I grabbed his shoulder and rolled him toward me. His skin was clammy, his color yellow-gray, and he was sweating profusely.

"Will?" I tensed and my heart accelerated as I grasped one side of his head. I tried to look into his eyes, to see his pupils. "Will, are you okay?"

He sounded like a recording underwater when he tried to respond. I felt his pulse: his heartbeat was off the chart. He mumbled something about needing to "get out of this bubble wrap." Dread scaled up the back of my neck.

"Oh, God, this is not good," I thought out loud.

Will had been battling clinical depression since fall, but I was convinced he was much better than he had been just months before. That Sunday morning, March 11, 2001, as I geared up to do battle with whatever was afflicting him, my first thought was: encephalitis. Not suicide. En-ceph-a-li-tis.

Certain viruses affect the brain in ways that render patients tangled and disoriented. My son was certainly disoriented. And feverish. He was delirious. It could be a terrible case of the flu. Or how about meningitis?

There were all manner of ailments I knew nothing about.He could have contracted any one of them. That was it. It was the flu. Or maybe it was a drug interaction with an antihistamine; something he might have taken for seasonal allergies was causing havoc with his antidepressant medications.

I tried to raise his head by placing my hand behind his neck; his eyes lolled back in his head and he moaned.

"Okay, that's it!" I said under my breath, and ran downstairs to get my husband, Jack.

On the way downstairs, I bumped into my stepson, John: "Something's going on with Will. Would you go sit by him while I get your dad?"

My husband was loading the last few items into the car for Jane's trip back to college. I grabbed him and took him aside and said, "Something's wrong with Will."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean physically, something is terribly wrong -- like a virus or something. He's delirious and foaming at the mouth."

"I'll be right there. Just let me get Jane off."

I raced back to Will's room, where John queried me: "What's up with Will?" John's voice was panicky. He was clearly unnerved by Will's appearance. I saw the fear and bewilderment in his eyes and thought, "No time for guessing -- we have to act."

"I don't know, sweetie, but I think we need to get him to a doctor or the hospital quickly."

John and Will were just half a year apart in age and had been close friends since they were preschoolers, long before Jack and I married in 1999, when the two boys became stepbrothers. John leaned over Will's bed and implored, "Hey,Will, do you know where you are?"

Will babbled, "She can wear whatever she wants."

John and I exchanged glances, incredulous. "Huh?"

Jack bounded up the stairs, and I ran past him in the hallway on my way to our bedroom to pull on some clothes. "We need to get him to the emergency room!" I shouted.

I grabbed jeans and yanked a sweater over my head and heard Jack and John in Will's room trying to coax him to his feet. The boys managed to lumber down the hallway, but at the top of the stairs Will balked. He wouldn't go any farther.

"I'm afraid of bears and I won't go downstairs," he uttered. Jack and I looked at each other, perplexed, for half a second.

Will wouldn't budge. He couldn't be coaxed. He repeated the singsong phrase, "I'm afraid of bears and I won't go downstairs, I'm afraid of bears and I won't go downstairs," three or four more times.

The freakishness, the otherworldliness of the utterance propelled our collective anxiety into the stratosphere. There were no family histories of encounters with bears. This imaginary juggernaut, this bear phobia, came from some dark cave in Will's head.

We managed to reach the bathroom at the end of the hallway.Will collapsed on the tile floor. Straining and pulling, we maneuvered him into our bedroom and laid him on the bed.

Jack's ex-wife, Charlotte, had been downstairs helping Jane pack up for school and get on the road. Now, she dashed upstairs to see how she could help us. I passed Will's tennis shoes to Charlotte and she struggled to put them on him, while John and Jack wrestled him onto the bed. I grabbed the phone on the bedroom dresser and dialed 911 ...

Will's Choice
A Suicidal Teen, a Desperate Mother, and a Chronicle of Recovery
. Copyright © by Gail Griffith. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Paul Raeburn
“Perceptive and instructive...a valuable document in the fight for better health care for our mentally ill children.”
Andrew Solomon
“This is a book about the struggle to supplement love with wisdom in the face of great pain.”
Emmylou Harris
“A courageous and unflinching chronicle .... A beautifully written handbook of help and hope.”
Judith Guest
“Ground-breaking...If this book serves as a wake-up call, it is truly one that could save lives.

Meet the Author

Gail Griffith has spent most of her career as a coordinator, fundraiser, and advocate for international humanitarian programs. She is a member of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and has served as the patient representative to the Food and Drug Administration's advisory committee on possible links between antidepressant medication and suicidal thinking in teenagers. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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