Bipolar Teenager Reach Out to Others
Patricia Rice, St. Louis Post Dispatch, October 6, 2005
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When two teens
return to school after hospital stays, one student is greeted
with colorful welcome banners and hugs all around. The other
student observes friends duck behind locker doors so they don't
have to talk to him.
Larry McCord's voice faltered as he talked about the silence
that teens with mental illness experience. His son, Chad McCord,
often talked about his need to educate teens, parents and
teachers about adolescent depression.
Now Larry McCord and his wife, Marian, are following their son's
suggestion to end the silence. In August, the couple got
nonprofit status for a charity they founded to fund education
and research on teen mental illness.
Chad was an A student, a popular track star, an Eagle Scout, a
parish volunteer and a charming, after-school shoe salesman.
When Chad attempted suicide and was hospitalized, his mother, a
pediatric nurse, took a leave from St. Louis Children's Hospital
to oversee his care.
However, when he talked about returning to school to complete
his senior year at Oakville High School, he steeled himself for
the awkwardness experienced by the mentally ill.
In April of last year, the champion sprinter ran in front of a
truck on Interstate 55 in the Oakville area, killing himself.
The tragedy came just two weeks after he became an Eagle Scout,
a year after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and 18 months
after doctors diagnosed his depression and anxiety disorder.
After more than a year of reflection and research, his parents
are convinced that Chad had suffered from depression for a
The board members of the new charity, CHADS Coalition for Mental
Health, want to raise $35,000 initially to fund research into
early genetic identification of possible mental illness in
teens. (CHADS stands for Communities Healing Adolescent
Depression and Suicide.) With the support of doctors at three
hospitals and Washington University School of Medicince, CHADS
is planning forums for teachers. CHADS held two small
fundraising runs over the summer and plans a third in December.
The CHADS Web site has started modestly, but within a
year it could be the "go-to" place for information on teen
mental illness, said Larry McCord, a tech support specialist.
The McCords feel a sense of urgency. Eleven teens commit suicide
every day in the U.S. Even so, few teens, their teachers or
parents are taught the signs of depression or how to help.
"Too often there is the tendency to minimize or explain away the
early signs of mental illness in youth," said Dr. Richard D.
Todd, of Washington University's psychiatry department.
"Children and adolescents may not notice changes in their
behavior, emotions or thinking patterns. Parents, teachers and
friends are frequently the first to notice that a youth is
acting different or seems distressed,"
Teaching the warning signs of emotional or behavioral problems
is critical to early identification, Todd said.
In the McCords' Oakville home, seated under a white pavilion
amid hostas and swaying astilbe in a peaceful, woodland garden
that Chad planted days before his death, his parents served up
the statistics that have become their mantra.
Suicide is not only the leading cause of death for Americans 15
to 19, but its incidence exceeds the sum of the next five top
medical causes of death for that age group.
Todd sees a critical need to develop screening tools and
streamlined assessment procedures.
And teens need to be taught that some secrets should never be
kept, the McCords said.
"We need young people to learn that if a friend tells them that
they are thinking about killing themselves, they must tell
someone - a school counselor, a parent," she said.
"They are not helping their friend by keeping the secret."
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