16-Year Old’s Suicide on Zoloft

“Brandon’s mother, and my wife of 15 years, unable cope with loss of her youngest son, [then] took her own life.”

Bandon W. Ferris 1/04/85 – 7/22/01

My 16 year old step-son, Brandon Ferris, committed suicide, on July 22, 2001, approximately 3 weeks after he began taking the SSRI antidepressant known as Zoloft.

As husband to his mother Barbara, I helped raise Brandon from the time he was less than 2 years old. He was a bright and socially outgoing child who got along well with his brother, and step-siblings.

At age 12 he took an interest in martial arts, and we enrolled him in Seongs Tai Kwon Do Academy in Fredericksburg, VA. He found himself well suited to this discipline and worked his way trough the program to achieve his Black Belt. He made many friends there and became an instructor to other children and adults at the age of 15.

As a teenager Brandon’s other activities included sports games with his friends in the neighborhood. He also was active in our church’s youth group where he was involved in drama and many outside volunteer community projects. Additionally, Brandon held down a part-time job at a local coffee shop.

Maybe at this point you are thinking that I have painted a picture of the perfect child. Brandon also had a mischievous side that was more entertaining than bad. For instance he was very creative at finding ways to get out of chores that he didn’t think were fun. “Fun” was a key word for Brandon.

Because of Brandon’s busy schedule, and the fact that we believed his aptitude was beyond the public school system, Barbara and I decided to home-school him. This situation tended to work out well, and as a byproduct, provided more quality communication time between Brandon, Barbara, and myself. Barbara also worked part-time at the Tai Kwon Do School, so she was active in Brandon’s daily activities generally several hours per day.

In June of 2001 Brandon expressed to his mother that he had been feeling despondent over some issues surrounding his life, i.e. a close friend who was having personal problems, and a would-be girl-friend. It was also evident that Brandon was not his ordinarily energetic self. It was decided that 1) he should take some time off from his varied responsibilities, and 2) he should see a counselor.

The Licensed counselor expressed concern over Brandon’s general well-being and suggested that he see the family doctor. The doctor, who could find no evidence of physical malfunctions, gave Brandon a prescription for the drug Zoloft.

We allowed Brandon to go with his best friend’s family to the beach for several days. The friend’s parents were also close friends of ours and were fully up to date on Brandon’s situation. They made sure Brandon took his medicine and monitored his behavior. Reports were that “all had a great time”. However, it was noted that Brandon’s demeanor on a couple of occasions was uncharacteristically less than his usual polite self.

Back at home he seemed fine and appeared to be enjoying his time off from work.

Sunday July 22nd we awoke a little latter than planned to get to church. Barbara didn’t have time to get ready so Brandon and I went together. Brandon hung out with his buddies during the service, which was customary, and in the car going home we discussed current events. Because Barbara’s birthday was the coming Friday, and Brandon liked to cook, he volunteered to make the cake. He told me he had been invited to go on a boating trip on Wednesday, and asked my permission. I was agreeable as long as it was alright with his mother. Back at home he went down the street with friends and I didn’t see him again until later that afternoon, when he asked if he could go out to eat dinner with his older brother Randy. I said yes, and asked him if he planned to attend his usual youth-group meeting at 7:00. He said yes and that he would have Randy drop him off after dinner. Latter, Randy picked him up from church and he was home at approximately 9:15. He seemed fine and went across the street to a friend’s house. He came back at about 9:45 and on his way up stairs he stopped to ask his mother about the boating trip. She told him we would discuss it after the movie we were watching. At about 10:00 I called up to him to take out the trash. He did, and went back to his room. At approximately 10:30 he asked his brother, in the next room, if he could use the computer to check his email. Randy told him that he would be finished with the computer in about 15 minutes. At 11:00 I called upstairs again because Brandon had missed a box that needed to go out with the trash. He did not answer. Randy then went to his room and found him hung by the neck from a belt in his closet. We called 911 and performed CPR to no avail. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Having looked back the day’s events, and spoken to most of those whom Brandon had contact with in detail; I could not detect any indication of forethought to suicide. However, later conversations revealed possible clues, as does the following excerpt of a sympathy card from the parents of two of Brandon’s Tai Kwon Do students.

…The weekend night of Saturday July 21st Paul and I went to the movies. Brandon and a friend were there. Brandon got up and sat down next to us. He looked at Paul and said “Hi, how are you?” It took a second and then Paul recognized him. Brandon smiled. He said “I’m here with a friend, and I told him I was going to play a trick on you.” We asked Brandon how he had been doing. He said “I’ve had a bit of depression; I’m on medicine, Zoloft. Its better I guess, the medicine messes with your head. They told me not to do anything that requires too much thought, So, I’m taking a little time off from Tai Kwon Do. I’ll be back soon. It takes time to adjust to the medicine. I’m getting there.” His manner was upbeat, teasing a little, tired, but he seemed to recognize that some things required time to work through…

The obvious question is, “What happened in Brandon’s mind between 10:30 PM and 10:45 PM on the evening of July 22nd, 2001?”

I wish I could say that, that was the end of an unspeakable tragedy. However, approximately 5 months later, Barbara, Brandon’s mother, and my wife of 15 years, unable cope with loss of her youngest son, took her own life.

Since then I have collaborated with Brandon’s biological father, Dan Ferris, who has worked tirelessly to obtain information that would point to the cause of Brandon’s death. We believe, after having done much research, that the drug Zoloft, produced by Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company, had a causal effect in Brandon’s final actions.

Jeff Avery – Step-father
2204 Thornbury Dr. Richmond, VA 23233

Dan Ferris – Biological father
P.O. Box 29177 Richmond, VA 23242

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