Police have not yet confirmed what caused the death of “Growing Pains” actor Andrew Koenig , whose body was found in a Vancouver park on Thursday. But according to a suicide-prevention expert, the 41-year-old actor — who Vancouver police classified as being “despondent” upon his disappearance and who reportedly suffered from depression — exhibited some of the signs of someone who might be thinking about harming themselves.
“I understand that Andrew had a history of depression, and if you combine some of the other signs [such as clearing out his Los Angeles apartment ], there is cause for concern,” said Dr. John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Draper does not have firsthand knowledge of the Koenig case, but he said anyone who is concerned that someone close to them might be considering suicide should make every effort to reach out to that person and make sure they have the help they need.
“Instead of saying, ‘I’m sad’ or ‘I’m having a bad day,’ someone who is depressed might say, ‘I’m having a bad life’ or ‘Everything is bad,’ ” he said. “When you hear those kinds of statements, it tells you this person might be depressed.”
He said other signs include irritability and anger, low energy and fatigue or sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating or talking about suicidal thoughts. “People who are suicidal will tell you, ‘I’d be better off dead,’ and you need to act on that sign,” he said. “You need to get that individual some help or contact a professional. If you hear or notice that in some way they are making plans — getting lethal means, gathering pills, buying a gun or you find a rope — or something suggests that they’re doing something differently to create a situation that could put them in danger, you should tell them you’re worried about them and offer help.”
Draper said giving away possessions or things that are of value to the individual or moving to another city unexpectedly might also be signs. “They could be moving to another city to seek an opportunity, which could be a good sign that they want to change their lives and plan for the future,” he said. “But you have to question: Why are they moving? What will happen there that won’t happen at the other location? What are their supports there? If they have a history of depression, it’s important to know they’re going to something instead of running away.”
He said moving to another city — even one with fond memories, which Vancouver reportedly had for Koenig — might also lead to further isolation for someone who has a history of depression.
Koenig’s parents held an emotional news conference Thursday to talk about their son and provide a warning about suicide. “My son took his own life,” Koenig’s father, “Star Trek” icon Walter Koenig, said between long pauses. “The only thing I want to say is — we’ve already said what a good guy he was and a good human being, and he was obviously in a lot of pain. … For those families who have members they fear are susceptible to this kind of behavior, don’t ignore it, don’t rationalize it.”
In the days following Koenig’s February 14 disappearance, it was revealed that he had suffered from depression and had mailed a letter to his father before vanishing that gave the family cause for concern; the contents of that letter have not yet been revealed. Police found the actor’s body in Vancouver’s Stanley Park but have not yet discussed the manner in which Koenig died.
As for what concerned friends and family can do to help someone who might be suicidal, Draper said it’s important not to minimize the concerning behavior and let the person know you care about them and want to help them feel safe. “You can let them know that this is a bad time but that they’ll be able to get through it if they get help,” he said. “It’s important not to abandon them. Let them know how to contact you, and try to get them help, especially if they don’t have a physician or therapist of their own.”
Among other warning signs that someone may be suicidal: talking or writing about death, dying or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person; feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge; acting reckless or engaging in risky activities; feeling trapped; increasing alcohol or drug use; withdrawing from friends, family and society; feeling anxious, agitated or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time; experiencing dramatic mood changes; and seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life.
The hot line encourages calls from anyone who is feeling suicidal; is looking for information about suicide or mental illness, is struggling with substance abuse or addiction; wants to help a friend or loved one; is having relationship problems; or is suffering from abuse, violence, loneliness or family problems. Calls to the 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week hot line at (800) 273-8255 will connect you with a free and confidential crisis center in the Lifeline network closest to your location.
Head to mtvU’s HalfOfUs.com to get information and resources about depression, suicide and more important issues.