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Article of Interest - Bipolar Disorder

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Parents of 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 decade.

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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