By Michelle Mandel
June 12, 2010
Sara Carlin had everything to live for: She was smart, athletic, beautiful and pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor.
But on May 6, 2007, that bright future ended abruptly with a piece of electrical wire.
The promising 18-year-old had hung herself in her family’s Oakville basement and her grieving parents blame her suicide on the Paxil antidepressant she’d been prescribed more than a year before.
In emotional testimony that left many fighting back tears, Sara’s mother Rhonda told a coroner’s inquest that her daughter earned 90’s in school, played baseball and women’s hockey, held a part-time job at an optometrist’s office and tutored other kids in math.
“She was a pretty exceptional girl, she was absolutely loving and she was beautiful,” her mom proudly recalled Wednesday before the presiding coroner, Dr. Bert Lauwers. “She really was an exceptional daughter.”
But in the early part of 2006, Sara began to change. During the family’s March break vacation to Palm Springs, she wouldn’t get out of bed most days and got drunk at dinner. “It was so unlike her,” her mom said.
It was only later that she learned Sara had complained of anxiety and depression to her family doctor and had recently been prescribed Paxil, one of the antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
“I said, ‘Why on earth, Sara would you be on antidepressants?’ I was astounded,” she recalled for the five-member jury. “Why, why would he be giving these to her? This was a wonderful, happy girl.”
While Sara lost her much older brother to a drug overdose in 2000, her mother believed her daughter had coped well with his death and never wanted the counselling she’d been offered.
So this need for antidepressants, she said, came out of the blue.
“She was very troubled, much more troubled than any of us knew,” her mother acknowledged.
While her parents repeatedly voiced their reservations about Paxil, Sara brushed them off, saying her doctor told her it would make her feel better. “I didn’t even know the horrific side effects of Paxil at that time,” her mom said. “I certainly didn’t know what I know now.”
Health Canada issued warnings in 2003 and 2004 that prescribing antidepressants to teens could lead to behavioural or emotional changes that might put them at increased risk of suicidal behaviour.
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