Why Did Julie Take Her Life?

Why Did Julie Take Her Life?
"Instead of picking out a college, we're picking a cemetery," says Kathy Woodward (with husband Tom at the site where their daughter killed herself in North Wales, Pa.). Inset: Before her death, Julie (in '03) was a typical teen who "was just going through a rough patch," says her mother.
Erika Larsen/Redux; Courtesy Woodward Family

updated 09/14/2004 at 01:00 PM EDT

originally published 04/05/2004 02:00PM

From the very beginning, Tom and Kathy Woodward's firstborn was a golden child. At 5 months, she spoke her first word. While still in preschool, she was signed by the Wilhelmina agency as a child model. And by the time Julie Woodward reached her sophomore year at a Catholic high school near her home in North Wales, Pa., she was a good student looking forward to a bright future that would include, as she once wrote on a piece of paper titled "Plan for Life," marriage (anytime "over 26"), children ("two or three") and "a nice house in the country."

Instead, at 16, Julie's life took a dark turn. In the fall of 2002 she began having trouble at a new school and, in defiance of her parents' wishes, began dating a college boy. Julie became quiet and withdrawn, so much so that in July Tom and Kathy took her to a psychiatrist, who prescribed two antidepressants. She lasted on the medication just one week: On July 23, after discovering that their daughter wasn't home – and hadn't spent the night with her grandparents, as they had thought – her parents became alarmed. Tom walked out to the garage behind the house, opened the door and found Julie, 17, dead. "She had hanged herself," he says, his voice breaking. "I grabbed her, and I knew she was gone. I felt her, and she was cold."

Today, eight months after the tragedy, the Woodwards still sound as if they are trying to convince themselves that all of this really happened. "Julie was the most self-protective, self-preserving kid in the world," says her mother, Kathy, 47. Adds Tom, 46, who, like his wife, is a financial consultant: "I never in a million years thought this could happen to us."

But it did, and the Woodwards aren't the only parents to suffer such a loss. On March 22 the FDA issued a recommendation for manufacturers to begin printing warning labels for antidepressants, in response to growing concern that the very drugs meant to lift kids out of depression sometimes do just the opposite. "The labeling we are proposing won't say you can't use these drugs," says Dr. Thomas Laughren of the FDA psychiatric drugs division. "[But] the one thing that was clear from our hearings is that many patients were not being well monitored." The labels will caution patients to watch for signs of hostility and agitation, especially during the first days of use and whenever dosage is adjusted.

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