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Teen Suicide Prevention: Monitoring Our Teens

Kelly, 48, and her husband Joe, 49, who runs a construction firm, were also unaware of the extent of Luke's misery. "I'm a nurse, and I know the signs of depression," says Kelly, a professor at Xavier University in Cincinnati, where she teaches a course in pediatric nursing. "I sometimes worried that he was sleeping too much or was too irritable, but I thought he was just tired from sports practice." Still, she was concerned enough to take Luke to his pediatrician. "I made sure he told the doctor what happened in eighth grade. She asked Luke if he was having any suicidal feelings now," Kelly recalls. "He looked her in the eye and said no."

At the family's Labor Day gathering, Luke seemed fine. But a few nights later he found himself sitting in the yard, determined to end it all. He had gotten his shotgun—a present from an uncle who hunted—and sat there for 20 minutes, putting the barrel in his mouth and taking it out, over and over. "Then I called my dad, asking when my parents would be home. He told me soon and hung up," Luke says. As usual, the boy sounded so normal that Joe had no idea anything was wrong. "But my mom sensed something—I don't know how—and immediately called back. I told her I had a shotgun and she screamed." Kelly quickly regained her composure, speaking calmly to Luke and keeping him on the phone while Joe dialed 911. "It was the worst moment of my life," she says. "I could envision Luke and feel the metal on his teeth. It's unbearable to think of your child in that much pain. That memory will never go away."

But while he was still holding the shotgun, Luke had a revelation. "I was able to slow down and really think," he says. "My parents had always shown me nothing but love. They always asked me how my day was, even though I'd usually just say 'fine.' They were always home after work for family dinners, ready to listen to anything I had to say. I realized there was nothing I could do to disappoint my parents, because they loved me no matter what. Because of that, I was able to put down the gun and call them."

An ambulance rushed Luke to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, where he spent five days in the psychiatric unit. There he discovered he had lots of companym—other kids, many struggling with academic pressures, who had also contemplated ending it all. "It was like a revolving door for students at my school and other places like it," he says. After being discharged, Luke went into intensive therapy. "To our surprise, he wanted to return to the same high school, but he decided to drop Latin, which was fine with us," says Kelly. She and Joe kept a close and constant vigil, refusing to leave Luke alone for even a few minutes over the next nine months. "I didn't sleep well for a long time," says Beth. "I was always wondering, 'What if he's just putting on a happy face? What if he tries again?'"

The Beischels' fears eased a bit after Luke's therapist suggested—and he agreed—to make a pact with his family to talk about his feelings before they got out of hand. At Kelly's urging, he also began sharing his story with concerned parents at Surviving the Teens, a local suicide prevention program. As his mood stabilized and Luke began to feel less isolated, life seemed to hold promise once again. He enrolled at Xavier University, where he became campus president of Active Minds, a national student mental health organization. By then he was much more open with his family about everything—including his homosexuality. "All those things—including my parents' acceptance of my being gay—have been very healing for me," he says.

Now a production assistant for Bounce AEG, an events production company based in Los Angeles, Luke still wrestles with his demons. "I worry sometimes about slipping back," he says. But he continues to make good on his promise to keep the vital lines of communication open. "There have been a few times I've had passing thoughts about suicide. But they've just been little alerts that I need to evaluate what's happening in my life," he says. "Usually the answer is that I should ease up and take a few things off my plate. I can now recognize how to turn things around—and keep moving forward."