[OPINION] There Must Be Ways To Prevent Suicide

Alan and Sheri Snedeker lived in Westport for 30 years. He’s an “eclectic creative”; she’s a painter.

They raised 2 sons here. Kirk is a drummer, and builds websites. Mark — who left Staples High School in 1990, when he had enough credits to graduate — committed suicide at 19.

The other day, Alan saw a Tedx Talk. He learned that psychiatrists and psychologists are the only medical professionals who treat a body part that they do not test, look at or scan.

Instead, he says, “they rely on medical companies to create a pill that, hopefully, will work.” Alan is convinced that his son would be alive today if his brain had been scanned.

Alan wants Westport teenagers — and their parents — to see this video. He also sends some thoughts on Mark.

Mark told me one day, “You will never know how bad I feel.”

He attempted suicide the next day…the first time. Police found him, and rushed him to the hospital. I’m sure that a scan of his brain would tell us a lot about his depression.

He was hospitalized in Norwalk Hospital, and given nothing but lithium to help his feeling.

He was mixed with alcoholics and drug addicts, and treated like he was a moron.

After Norwalk, we had Mark on daycare at Silver Hill. He was deeply depressed. One day he went out to take pictures. At Staples, he easily shot excellent photographs. That day, he came back with nothing.

Mark Snedeker was an excellent photographer — and also a talented musician.

He was 19 at Silver Hill — legally, an adult. The psychiatrist he saw could not tell us to search his room for weapons and drugs — and we didn’t think to do it. We did not know that people who attempt suicide often do so more than once.

On the day he died I was raking leaves. I thought to myself that exercise is good for a person in depression.

The day before he died, he acted normal. That should have been a warning sign. We now know that people kill themselves when they are strong enough to do it.

I found his body in his bedroom. I could barely recognize him. He was totally disfigured. He must have suffered terribly before he died. He took hundreds of pills.

My point is 2-fold. Demand brain scans for manic depression and depression. It’s ridiculous that this is not done for mental illness.

And don’t treat a 19-year-old with mental illness as an adult. A psychiatrist should talk to parents, and possibly prevent a suicide.

There have to be better ways to treat people like Mark. The brain must be studied, and people over 18 must be able to talk to those who care.

20 responses to “[OPINION] There Must Be Ways To Prevent Suicide

  1. My heart goes out to Alan and Sheri. But the terrible fact is psychiatrists have no idea how 80% of their psychoactive drugs work scientifically, have only one blood test that only reveals serum lithium levels, fly blind most of the time, and brain scans (for the moment, as far as I know) can only detect which part of the brain reacts to specific stimuli.

    While they are being improved, brain scans cannot detect mental illness or even the effect any drugs. As a result, psychiatrists and psychopharmacologists really rely on their clinical experience — how many guys have I seen like him and what has worked for more of them? — than any science. That’s why I sympathetically call them Witch Doctors.

  2. Barbara Greenspan

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

  3. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70 BA, MA, JDE

    This is a heartbreaking and all too common story. Our society and our medical system has long treated mental illness as a “2nd tier” health issue, not worthy of either healthcare coverage or research. I’ve had two suicides in my extended family. The warning signs were there, in hindsight. I went through a bout of depression in high school, it was misdiagnosed as mono and it took 40 years before I received help.

  4. Janette Kinnally

    I graduated with Kirk and there were a couple of suicides in our 1987 Staples graduating class as well. I still remember the feeling when we heard the news about our friends never coming back again. I cannot imagine losing a child or brother like the Snedeker’s did. It is absolutely heartbreaking 💔
    The suicide epidemic has been rising over the last 10 years.
    I think scans and psychiatry can help, but it can also hurt a patient who has come to them and they are misdiagnosed or they guess and just throw different pills at them to see what sticks/helps best.
    There is still a long way to go in this field. But I am hoping with all of the neurologists, neuropsychologists, psychiatrists and psychologists coming together to do more and more research, that they will find better cures for mental illness and dementia.
    Most people I talk to know at least 1 person who has died of suicide. We need this to change and we need to find more solutions to this increasing epidemic. 🙏❤️

  5. Excellent suggestions Alan👍🏼👍🏼
    Mark was a great young man 🙏

  6. Whenever you suspect a mental health issue, you should first see a psychiatrist for an evaluation from a trained doctor to determine the situation and get an education on it. Neither a psychologist nor a therapist has the training to do a diagnosis. Mental health issues are like cancers and you don’t want treatment for a bruise when in fact there is cancer under the skin. Just like a physical health problem, start by eliminating the biggest risks, rather than getting “treatment” that will often actually hide the true problem.

  7. I hope everyone watched this Dr Amen Ted Talk. He is the man who brought to light the damage concussions have caused in Football players. He has changed medicine. Let us all facilitate his changing psychiatry. “…the only organ that is being treated and not looked at” instead of throwing medication at people with psychiatric symptoms, let’s look at their brains!. Let’s spread this information!! Thank you, Snedeker family!

  8. Linda Sugarman

    My husband was an MSW in private practice for 40 plus years. He Started with adolescents then worked with all ages with an understanding of the consequences of trauma in early life and the toll it takes on all of life experience. He started in residential treatment for adolescents as a cottage parent (built a program for residential adolescent treatment centers used nation wide in his early work in institutions based on group dynamics). He Was a vice-principal in an on-grounds school, Ended up as a trauma therapist,self designated, with clients who suffered from extreme trauma. They were clients who had multiple personality disorders due to abuse in early childhood and PTSD from war as well as everything else on anyone’s list. He was extremely successful. He lost only 2 clients to suicide in a life time of practice starting at 25 years old and going to 73, until the day he died. Those 2 people weighed heavily on his mind. They were extremely determined and institutions would not take them any more!! He did out patient only in his private practice and He started with them very late in their lives when they had multiple physical and emotional scars from earlier suicide attempts.
    His success with hundreds of patients was based on his willingness to be on call 24/7 except for 2 weeks per year when he took vacation for his own health, but he had great coverage backup. His clients had our home phone number and he spent a lot of sleepless nights ‘in the trenches’ as he put it. It was just who he was. But it worked!!
    The information provided here is the science behind why what he did worked!! I wish he was alive to see it.
    Our daughter is an animal behaviorist working with PTSD and traumatized rescued animals. She has devised her own treatment protocol for helping horses and dogs that attack humans and other animals to learn their way out of their trauma and defensiveness. So far she has been 100% successful with all of her cases. She has always claimed that the brains are changed through experience physiologically. This information proves it!! She is in the process of writing 2 books about this topic in animal behavioral treatment. They are almost completed.
    Training cannot reach these animals or people. As in the accompanying piece, ‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain’ the experience MUST BE LEARNING EXPERIENCE not rote discipline!! Learning is what changes the brain and if a brain is damaged, specific experiences must be devised to heal the damage and allow learning to take place.
    That is the ‘Art’ of therapy!! The ability to walk humans or animals through the emotional and physiological tunnels of their distress is the only thing that provides a safe foundation where learning can take place. With animals, the behaviorist must be incredibly fast and flexible in seeing problems, presenting learning situations, catching progress and using it to keep walking!! Animals do not lie to themselves or anyone else so things happen fast and must be instantly reinforced.
    I myself worked with Special Needs children for 30 years. Half of my clients were preverbal in development so it was like working with brains that can’t tell you what is wrong. In the later years about half of my clients were Autistism Spectrum Children. I worked with a Birth to Three program doing home visits and with school programs serving ages 3-21 and with Group Homes age 21 until natural death. I experienced clients with similar problems throughout what would be a full life span with diagnoses ranging from wheel chair bound CP and other brain insult patients with physiological and cognitive development problems to Autism Spectrum and finally behavioral- ‘Social/Emotional’ diagnoses.
    I was a Pediatruc Physical Therapist working in a wide range of settings, age ranges, and with fully medical diagnoses.
    The common element in all of the therapy that I did and that my husband did and that my daughter does is trust!! Trust MUST be established between therapist and client primarily AND between the therapist and all spporting people, staff and or family, in the client’s life to build the necessary secure platform for learning to take place. The ultimate goal is always to build trust in the clients of themselves and their own ability to deal with any situation that comes up or to get help when the can’t.
    The therapist is often the help that is called along the way but family and friends are finally part of the trusted network. However, the client must begin as soon as possible to build self trust in small steps increasing as time goes on.
    Then, the brain changes that are necessary for flexibility and development throughout life as well as the emotional balance that allows for long term memory to take place can result in the actual brain changes that comprises ‘learning’.

    • Childhood trauma comes in so many different ways, not just the obvious ones, manifesting itself in a brain that is not developed in the ways one would expect. Not recognizing those root causes created additional problems because the treatment is usually focused on the symptom and not the real cause.

      Thanks for the great work that your family has and continues to do, Linda.

  9. Thank you for this post. We need to reduce stigma and raise awareness on suicide by talking about it. Psychotropic medications react differently in different people. Some people kill themselves after just a week on antidepressants and some swear by them. Clearly we don’t know enough how people react – and yes, blood tests can show how people metabolize meds. The use of antidepressants and Benzodiazepines has increased dramatically over the past 25 years, yet the rate of depression continues to rise. Read Robert Whitaker’s books to learn more – and follow his blog: madinamerica. We are in the Stone Age in psychiatry. How did the young man obtain so many pills?? There needs to be better communication in pharmacies – a nationwide database to control prescriptions (note that I believe there is one but not all doctors use it.) Too many suicides – my daughter was one. The pills made her totally numb. To heal you need to feel (and get good therapy).

  10. Linda Sugarman

    I am very sorry for your loss. Having a child in that kind of pain without the ability to relieve his stress is the worst nightmare possible. When you think of h hug him and love him. Some people say that we continue. I hope that it is true. But on the chance that it is, hold him in your arms. He will feel it.

  11. Dianne Quagliariello

    Thank you for posting this Dan and thank you to the Snedeker family for sharing their story and TEDx. It was both enlightening and thought provoking. My condolences to the family for the loss of their precious Mark.

  12. I hold a PhD in Social Work and have my own training consultancy, Talking Changes. One of my most asked-for trainings is on the detection, intervention and prevention of teen suicide. Although we have more ways to understand brain chemistry today, such as the Genomind test, it’s still imperative to remember that suicide is the 2nd most common cause of death among 11-24 year-olds; that the brain of people at this age isn’t fully “wired” to connect the part of the brain that experiences despair and shame with the part that considers consequences, allowing for drastic and sometimes fatal behaviors, and that we may not be able to help save every teenager at risk for suicide, no matter how advanced our technology or what diagnoses we make. I am so sorry for Mark’s death and for the loss of all the teenagers who don’t see another way out of their suffering.

  13. Linda Sugarman

    I wrote this earlier but must have missed hitting the post comment button.
    I am very sorry for your loss. Having a child in such pain and feeling helpless is the worst nightmare imaginable.
    So many of our teens are choosing this path now. I think it has become the most common cause of death in adolescence. Used to be car accidents when I was a kid.
    I think things are very rough in the world these days and teens are so emotionally vulnerable in any era because of hormone shifts and the fact that it is the most socially dependent age of life! These days it seems like we have no control over and way to fight the negativity that is rampant out there!!

    Some people believe that we continue on. Whether you think so or not, hug your boy when you think about him. Send/give him love in your thoughts as if he was in your arms. If it is possible, he will get the message!!
    I hope for all of us that it is possible!!

  14. Roberta Tager

    Have seen brain scans of drug addiction brains…they are incapable until their brains return to normal to understand or make different choices. Big ouch. We have certainly dropped the ball.

    Sent from my iPhone


  15. Roberta Tager

    Brain scans show alterations in brains until addiction is cleared.
    The person with the changes is incapable of making changes in behavior. We have dropped the ball so to speak.

  16. Roberta Tager

    Dear family and friends, Powerful pain.,,,your gift is that you have lived and you have cared. Yes.. you all have touched many people…you have added to the rise of consciousness. May you receive many blessings, and much love. Sincerely, Roberta T.

    Sent from my iPhone


  17. Dianne Quagliariello

    PS: I shared the TEDx Talk w/a family member heavily involved in LifeAct.org and she shared w/me that they have been advised to use the expression “died by suicide” vs “committed suicide” as it recognizes suicide as an illness and not a clear choice. Continued enlightenment.

  18. Linda sugarman

    One of the most common causes of brain injury is toxins in our environment like the lead in water, mercury in dental amalgam and in some vaccines still in methyl form as a preservative, and arsenic in old pressure treated wood. All of those effect the brain chemically. Mercury Toxicity is a root cause for bipolar depression and MS.
    We must be diligent in our demands for clean water, clean air, toxin free home use chemicals including paints and cleaning items. Insecticides and weed killers are dangerous to humans and to plant production. Roundup causes the same kind of cancer as Agent Orange!! Both are defoliants. We need science to be working on all of these problems all of the time. We don’t need new products for convenience that are health hazards in our back yards.
    The increase in many autoimmune diseases effecting all ages and manifesting in multiple systems and organs in our bodies are due to ‘better living through chemistry’ issues that we were not aware of in our quest for time savers in modern living.
    We have to look for and discover the real causes of increased depression, anger, and aggression. We know that Steroids can make our football players buff and also very aggressive. This is common knowledge but we often don’t bother with it until it’s too late to change easily. And, children are the most vulnerable victims since their bodies readily take in everything they come across by eating, drinking, and breathing.
    There needs to be more money spent discovering the wider ranging and long term effect of all Of these toxin potentials and less money spent on marketing to sell them before we know what they really do overall.

  19. Dale Nordling

    My heart goes out to those who have lost someone to suicide, and I understand the desire to look for answers, or “what could we have done…” solutions. However, I would approach the TedTalker, Daniel Amen’s work with careful, realistic scrutiny. This Wikipedia article mentions a number of problems, including his extreme marketing of himself. I’m sure a search would reveal other information. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Amen