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Behind Kaitlyn's suicide

Family questions antidepressant's role in teen's death

''Dear everyone: I'm so sorry. I can't take living anymore," 16-year-old Kaitlyn Kennedy wrote in big, urgent, red crayon letters. ''I love you so much, please don't be sad."

In the garage of her family's home in small-town Medway, she took a rope. She made a loop with a metal clip. She mounted a low stool.

Kaitlyn had been ground down in recent months by an intense, on-and-off relationship with her controlling 20-year-old boyfriend, her parents say. Once a sunny comedian surrounded by friends, she had grown isolated, depressed, and anxious. She had taken to cutting herself. In January, she had swallowed a nonfatal overdose of Tylenol and prescription drugs.

When her frightened parents sought a therapist's help, Kaitlyn was prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft on Jan. 17. From an initial modest dose, she was later bumped gradually up to 150 milligrams, near the maximum dose.

On Feb. 21, Kaitlyn hanged herself.

''She did have anxiety, she did have depression, but I do believe the impulse -- the agitated behavior and killing herself -- was due to the drugs," said Kathleen Kennedy, Kaitlyn's mother. ''I do believe that. I don't believe she got the proper care she should have had."

Always unfathomable, the suicides that are the third most common cause of death among adolescents ages 10 through 19 have recently begun to prompt one additional, tormenting question for those left behind:

Could it have been the antidepressant?

American psychiatric authorities emphasize that antidepressants help a great many teens, and say that there is no proven link between drugs like Zoloft -- known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors -- and suicide.

But the US Food and Drug Administration is examining the possible connection, amid much media attention, and is expected to come to a finding by this fall.

The agency also issued a warning in March --the month after Kaitlyn killed herself -- that patients taking antidepressants could turn suicidal and should be closely watched. Britain, citing the suicide risk, has banned all the SSRIs for youngsters, except Prozac.

Kaitlyn Kennedy's parents say they heard about the possible SSRI-suicide link for the first time in the media, not from her doctors. On the day before the night Kaitlyn killed herself, her father, Alan, brought a newspaper clipping about the possible risks to her therapist, who ''kind of blew it off," he said.

The Kennedys do not recall any of Kaitlyn's therapists or doctors warning them about the dangerous agitation that sometimes accompanies antidepressants. Her father, a sound technician, said Kaitlyn described feeling like she was ''crawling out of her skin" -- typical of such agitation.

The pull of the antidepressant theory for heartbroken parents like the Kennedys is clear: It offers a possible explanation for an unbearable mystery. Because otherwise, despite the paper trail of Kaitlyn's death -- journals, medical records, e-mail messages, and the note, all of which her parents shared with the Globe -- her suicide is all but impossible to understand.   Continued...

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