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 on suicidal 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.