Andrew's Story

Our son Andrew was a bright and talented young man. He was 21 years old, had just graduated with honors from the Fisher School of Accounting at the University of Florida and was set to embark on a career in accounting with one of the Big Four in Atlanta. Although ever smiling, with piercing blue eyes, he faced a personal battle with depression and anxiety that he shared with no one. On January 7, 2014, Andrew died by suicide.

There was no note, nothing at all to tell us what he was thinking in those final moments. He didn’t reach out to anyone to tell them he was depressed, suffering or suicidal. For a long time, it was easy to judge and blame myself for not noticing something, anything. I was his father after all, how did I miss this? All I could do for months in my grief and despair was search for answers. Why? Why would he do this? Why wouldn’t he have talked to us? To anyone? I spoke to everyone he knew – roommates, recruiters, advisers, professors, the dean – and they were all as bewildered as our family. No one saw this coming. No one saw Andrew as a young man who would end his life.

The truth is there were signs of depression long before that night, things we didn’t recognize until we looked back in hindsight, that he was experiencing. His friends had noticed he was more withdrawn and stayed in his room instead of socializing. He was dealing with severe insomnia. He was less responsive to text messages and phone calls. He wasn’t shaving every day, started wearing the same clothes repeatedly and became less concerned about his appearance. For a meticulous kid like Andrew, this was unusual behavior.

Andrew, like so many others who die by suicide, learned to mask his pain and suffering. He put on a big smile, was loving and caring, and always willing to help and please others. I tried to understand what led him to this decision but the more I learned about severe depression, I came to understand that Andrew was simply a young man struggling with an undiagnosed mental health condition. The reality was he was hurting badly, nobody knew how much, and he saw no other way out.

Mental illness is a disease, not unlike cancer or heart disease, that if left undiagnosed or untreated can be fatal. We don’t know if we could have saved Andrew or not; convinced him that a permanent solution to a temporary challenge wasn’t a viable option. But had we known the signs, we could have made the effort.

If the work we do can save the life of just one child, or one family from enduring the grief we have, then somehow, someway, Andrew’s death makes more sense.