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Suicide Shocks NYC Private School

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How can you tell if your own child is suicidal? Here are the warning signs.

ny school where teen suicide occurred

We told you yesterday about the 17-year-old who plunged to his death at one of Manhattan's most elite private schools Wednesday, landing in front of horrified children playing on the sidewalk.

Theodore (Teddy) Graubard, a well-liked junior at The Dalton School on E. 89th St., jumped from a partially open 11th-floor window and died instantly, investigators said.

"I'm at a loss right now," said Howard Buford, 35, one of dozens of parents who rushed to Dalton after the 11:15 a.m. tragedy.

Theodore, who lived a few blocks from the school, was active in school groups, including the Math Olympiad, friends said. He played varsity football and designed the team's Web site; he also threw the discus for the school's track squad. He had 512 friends on Facebook.

The motive for his suicide remains unknown, investigators said. Theodore's younger brother also attends Dalton, police said.

Before jumping, he walked up to an empty dance studio on the 11th floor, a police source said. When asked by a teacher why he was there, Theodore said he wanted to look around.

When the teacher returned to her office down the hall, Theodore took off his jacket and left it with his book bag on the floor. He crawled out the top of the window and leaped.

The school is in session this week, and Theodore nearly landed on several children playing on the sidewalk when he jumped at 11:15 a.m., witnesses said.

"I heard a loud bang," said Dalton security guard Michael Brown, who was on the street. "It sounded like a gunshot. ... He was just dead."

"The fourth-graders were out here [and] everybody started running away from the body," Brown said. "The teachers got them out of here pretty quickly."

The school, which has 1,300 students in kindergarten through high school, will provide counseling for those affected by the incident.

"The Dalton School community is deeply saddened by today's tragedy, which involved the death of a beloved 11th-grade student," the school said in a statement. "Our thoughts and sympathies go out to the family."

This tragedy got us thinking ... how would we know if our kid wanted to kill himself? We called clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Boesky, and author of When to Worry: How to Tell if Your Teen Needs Help--and What to Do About It for guidance.

Dr. Lisa says the following behaviors are important "warning signs" of teens who may be thinking about ending their lives:

  • Gives away possessions of value
  • Becomes withdrawn and isolated
  • Exhibits abrupt personality change
  • Drops out of usual routine
  • Neglects hygiene
  • Engages in self-destructive or risky behavior
  • Makes statements about suicide, dying, or being "gone"
  • Looks or sounds like feelings of depression are deepening
  • Is curious, fascinated, or preoccupied with death
  • Talks about feeling inadequate, hopeless, or guilty

Other signs moms should be aware of include statements like: "I won't be a problem for you much longer," '"I wish I were dead," "You'd be better off without me," "You probably wish I would just die."

Certain risk factors also increase a teen's suicide risk, says Dr. Lisa. If your teen suffers from a mental health disorder, uses alcohol/drugs, recently experienced a major stressor, is disruptive or aggressive, has been arrested, or is a perfectionist, be particularly vigilant. Teens who end their lives typically have a combination of risk factors AND warning signs.

If your teen is talking about wanting to die or has made a suicide attempt, he or she must be attended to immediately. Any suicide attempt -- no matter how "harmless" it seems -- requires a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified mental health professional who is knowledgeable about teen suicide.

The evaluation should determine:

  1. your teen's level of risk
  2. whether he or she suffers from a mental health or substance abuse disorder
  3. what current stressors are present
  4. which strategies need to be in place to ensure his or her safety

Click here to download Dr. Boesky's suicide prevention checklist and tips.

Dr. Lisa says the Dalton suicide is a tragic reminder that no teen or family is immune from suicide risk. "Even the most perfect-looking teen who goes to one of the most expensive schools in the nation can be struggling on the inside," she says.

Our thoughts go out to Teddy Graubard's family in this horrific time.

next: Eat Smart -- For Your Heart
13 comments so far | Post a comment now
jw February 20, 2009, 10:42 AM

My prayers go out to Teddy’s Graubard’s family, friends and all those affected by this terrible tragedy. May God help them through this terrible time.

hstoltie February 24, 2009, 6:35 AM

First off let me say this to any family member, friend or others who have had a loss due to suicide: IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT AND NOTHING CAN STOP A TRULY SUICIDAL PERSON! As I use to teach in a parenting class, YOU could chain yourself to that person for 5 years, at 5 years and 1 second when you removed the chain, they can still go and complete this act.

having worked with high risk youth, parennts, and having my own child who for many years, made many attempts, I want to encourage all who are reading this to: each and every comment about hurting or killing their self or others should be taken seriously. When you hear hints of “I hate life, I just don’t want to do this any more, I have nothing left, anything with this content are red flags. DON”T FEAR confronting them, ask them directly “are you thinking of hurting or killing yourself? If they say yes, ask “how do you think you would do this, also if they have the access to the means they are choosing? (but unless you are willing to hear these answers, and help them problem solve and contract with you NOT to hurt/kill self leave this area with someone who can.) FIND your local Crisisline/teenline, or suicide prevention hotline. have the number, where you can call, or if willing the person can call.

LISTEN is another key to hearing what is going on. Encouragement from family/friends/coworkers etc… no matter how small is important. Constant prompts of “you are so important, what a great person you are to have in our lives, sometimes things are so tough, I feel special you are here. (note again, if there is the intent you can not stop it)

Mental Health therapy would be suggested as well. (for smaller children who may witness events like this, or a suicide, or have first hand family experience this is crucial)

Asking that person who you suspect it hinting at this, to “please help me, I am going to this meeting, and would like some company” GO TO A Survivors of Suicide meeting, and let them see the impact of being left behind.

Psychiatric Hospitalization can be another alternative - but often last

Grief is a LONG process, and should be allowed for anyone who is going through this, to do it in THEIR time, not anyone elses.

BASICALLY - if you hear hints, ACT! if you are left behind - grieve, and find a place when you are ready to go deal with your pain(and oh so many others) you are going through.

I spent many years (since my son was 12) planning his funeral, YES he was that severe, but HE is alive today, and now he chooses LIFE.

I hope this helps

Debbie February 24, 2009, 8:58 AM

Thanks for sharing this very Important information with everyone. I hope many people will read.

platypus February 24, 2009, 11:21 AM

this is sad, but its a very common occurrence in japan. The pressure on kids to succeed sometimes overwhelm them, or perhaps its another reason. I hope the family can cope with the loss.

Saph @ Walk With Me February 24, 2009, 3:49 PM

That is sooo sad. My heart goes out to the family and the poor kids that saw him land on the ground! I pray my kids will be able to talk to me when they’re older about anything and everything.

former Daltonian February 25, 2009, 5:45 PM

I went to Dalton years ago and it was one of my better experiences— no hazing, supportive and available teachers and students. Childhood and the passage to adolescence on the upper east side has a lot of pressure and we will never really know what went through the boy’s mind. There are so many pressures there, some unique— for a child whose parents are at the top of their game, living in a very expensive neighborhood, there can be much fear that the only place to go is down (or some sort of infamy like becoming a W or The Donald). Personally, I was never suicidal, but considered using my financial resources to run very far away (but my parents would have found me anywhere with their resources). All I can offer parents and friends of the poor boy is that sometimes people don’t let us in and there is nothing we can do to help them. Even when somebody just plain dies we tend to be angry at them for dying and every unresolved issue we had, for a suicide I think there may be more of that. Sadly, it can take as long as a year to really process an event like this.

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