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LA teen's family speaks out about his suicide

January 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Hundreds of people paid their respects to a Rolling Hills teenager who took his own life after battling depression."We have hundreds of photographs of Michael, and he's always smiling and so it's hard to tell when they deal with, you know, an underlying depression issue," said Ruben Garcia, whose son committed suicide.

Michael Garcia was 17 years old. He was popular and captain of the Rolling Hills Preparatory School football team. He had good grades and was in a church-going family. With him, they fought the depression that shadowed him until he found a gun and ended it all.

"I never once thought that my brother would do this. I always thought, 'Yea, he talks about it. Yea, you know, we're helping. We're working on it. We know he needs help.' But never to this extreme that you think it will happen, and it does," said sister Megan Garcia.

As hundreds of people gather for Michael's funeral, they ask: What did they miss? How do they warn other families?

Los Angeles Unified School District psychologist Richard Lieberman said suicide prevention efforts work. Lieberman heads the most successful program in the country for reducing teen suicides.

The number one risk factor is depression and how teens cope with it. While Michael excelled in school, other teens may do crazy things. Lieberman said parents may just pass it off, thinking that it's just a teenager acting out.

Teen suicide can be sparked by the loss of someone close to them, a bad break up, bullying or isolation. But Lieberman said those incidents are not the root cause.

It is critical to discuss suicide specifically with your teen to uncover deeper troubles, which are treatable. Lieberman said there is no last-minute warning.

"We had such a great day with him. We went to the movies, we went out to lunch, and for it to end so tragically was such a shock for us," said Tammy Garcia, Michael's mother.

Mental health specialists concede there are some suicides that cannot be prevented, but their message to teenagers is that most can.

"Suicide is not an option, and help is available," said Lieberman.