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On Sunday, March 11, 2001, at age seventeen, my son Will took a drug overdose of antidepressants, which nearly killed him. I knew that day that my life's course changed irrevocably and that our family would be defined by the event forever.
Two years later, I decided to lay bare our experience and Will's struggle with major depression, because nothing in the therapeutic literature about teens or teen depression prepared us for the battle we waged against this illness.
I chronicled our story -- not only Will's battle with major depression, but my own -- in Will's Choice: A Suicidal Teen, a Desperate Mother and a Chronicle of Recovery, published by HarperCollins Publishers in May 2005. The book describes our journey -- a mother and a son -- as we struggled to regain equilibrium after a cataclysmic descent into a suicidal depression. I wrote Will's Choice for families who are trying to keep their children from the same terrible abyss, who are challenged by limited resources and poor therapeutic solutions.
I have watched this public health crisis rip through families and lamented the paucity of ready solutions. But as I travel to talk about Will's Choice and share my experience, I have learned that lack of resources accounts for only half of the problem.
In an era when so many deadly and frightening diseases are being tackled successfully and new cures emerge on a daily basis, depression is an illness that still inspires secrecy and shame. But how can a nation that pays lip service to wanting the best for its children tolerate the failure of our society to unmask depression for what it is: a life-threatening brain illness. Teen suicide teaches us that our continued silence is lethal.
I want what we all want for our children: a sense of life's possibilities and hope for the future. I never imagined becoming an outspoken advocate for better mental health; I never imagined I would write a book or reveal the details of my own battle with major depression, or speak about my experiences in a public forum. But I watched my son traverse a mental inferno most people only experience through books and movies; and although it was not my intention to make him a "poster child" for depression, I felt compelled to expose this wretched disease.
Will has moved on. He emerged from depression in-tact and optimistic, with more than his fair share of insight and self-awareness. Shortly before Will's Choice was published, Dr. David Shaffer, a noted authority on teen suicide who wrote the book's introduction, asked Will if he planned to be part of the promotion surrounding the book. Will, hesitatingly, answered, "I'd rather not be." Shaffer responded, "Well, why would you want to be - it was such a small part [the depression] of your life." Amen! But, if by sharing his story -- our story --, I manage to convince others, adults with depression, families with teenagers and young people just like Will, that there is life and, perhaps even joy, beyond depression, it will be an accomplishment beyond measure.
Praise for Will's Choice
"I know I'm onto a ground-breaking book when I immediately begin counting up the people in my life for whom it will soon become a 'must-read.' Gail Griffith's story is every mother's nightmare, and her family's battle against the 'intensely unknowable and terrible' disease of depression, using the limited resources of a dangerously dysfunctional mental health care system, is both heartrending and chilling. If this book serves as a wake-up call, it is truly one that could save lives."
--Judith Guest, author of Ordinary People
"In Will's Choice, Gail Griffith has told, with a mother's passion, the urgent, necessary story of how her family coped with the devastating shock of a suicide attempt. This is a book about the struggle to supplement love with wisdom in the face of great pain."
--Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon
"Will's Choice is a courageous and unflinching chronicle of a mother's battle to save her child from the potentially lethal throes of teen depression. It is a story of fierce love and family in the real world, and, for parents going through this worst of all nightmares, it is a beautifully written handbook of help and hope."