Asking questions about teen suicide

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Vincent Giovanazzi, 17, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His body was found about a mile from his home in a canyon north of Glendora on Sept. 12.

TODAY (Saturday) Glendora will bury one of its youth, 17-year-old Vincent Giovanazzi, who after telling his family he was going to the library, walked up the Colby Trail instead and shot himself with a family handgun.

Vincent didn’t want to be found, say police, judging by the remote location where searchers discovered his body last Saturday morning. His body was there two weeks, well beyond the grassy field that supports the town’s famous native plant, the delicate and rare thread-leaved brodiaea, and more near the third closest coupling of oak trees. A place searchers passed by initially.

The oak-studded canyon with its dappled sunlight – a place I’ve hiked numerous times and not once forgot to thank the Creator for its beauty – is in stark relief with the last minutes in the life of a possibly depressed teenager, “hooked on unprescribed medication – Xanax, a drug of choice for teenagers,” said Glendora police lieutenant Tim Staab.

A boy’s suicide occurring off the path of a popular canyon trail. A suicide with no note, in a place where he didn’t want to be found.

It’s almost like the message here is not to talk about this. To keep it hidden, out of view, out of sight, out of mind.

But that’s not what experts say the community should do. In fact, they say talking about it can help settle nerves and even prevent copycats.

“Every family should have a conversation about it. Because unfortunately, it is a reality,” said The Rev. Karen Davis, Glendora’s police chaplain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the eleventh leading cause of death for all ages in 2006. For ages 15-24, it rises to the third leading cause of death, behind unintentional injuries and homicides. For ages 25-34 it is the second leading cause of death.

Nothing I write or what anyone says is intended to blame Vincent’s family. They have enough grief to sort through without adding guilt. No, instead, the time should be spent making sure young people don’t see suicide as an option. Put another way, that whatever stress they are experiencing – and there is a lot of weight on adolescents’ shoulders these days – they must know there is a way out.

“For a kid who feels overwhelmed by life, encourage them to find someone to talk to – to keep communication lines open,” Davis told me.

Then, if someone is feeling low and hints about killing himself, that kind of talk must be confronted, she said. “Usually, people try not to talk about this. But what mental health officials say is do talk about it and be very blunt. Say `Are you thinking about committing suicide?”‘

Already, the high school has broached the topic. Ironically, the week before Vincent’s body was found was “Suicide Prevention Week.” All this week, counselors were available to talk to students who asked for help.

As for drugs, it is a topic that also must be addressed. Staab said text messages and correspondence on social networking sites by Vincent and his friends indicated he was using the prescription drug to get high. To what extent the drug use led to suicide is not known. Was the loss of his father who died suddenly six years ago a factor? Again, Staab could not speculate.

But he was concerned about prescription drugs – in this case one commonly prescribed by doctors as an anti-anxiety medication – being sold on the street and being abused by local teenagers.

These are very tough topics but ones that need a careful airing. But not all questions can be answered.

“There will be many emotions (at today’s funeral),” Davis said. “They will feel guilt. Anger. And that inevitable question of `why’ will be asked. And there is no perfect answer to that question.”

steve.scauzillo@sgvn.com

This entry was posted in environment, land use, Pasadena by Steve Scauzillo. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steve Scauzillo

I love journalism. I've been working in journalism for 32 years. I love communicating and now, that includes writing about environment, transportation and the foothill/Puente Hills communities of Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut and Diamond Bar. I write a couple of columns, one on fridays in Opinion and the other, The Green Way, in the main news section. Send me ideas for stories. Or comments. I was opinion page editor for 12 years so I enjoy a good opinion now and then.

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