DEAR ABBY: My youngest stepson killed himself four months ago. He was only 16. His father and I knew what signs to look for, but we didn’t recognize any of them in him. The friends who were with him the day he died knew he wanted to commit suicide, and they also knew he had a loaded gun. However, thinking they had talked him out of going through with it, they left him alone. By the time he was found, it was too late.

I am writing this so others will understand that a person who threatens suicide should never be left alone – especially if he or she has the means to do it. I know my stepson’s friends thought they had the situation under control and that he’d be all right – but he wasn’t.

My family will grieve our son’s loss for the rest of our lives. As long as I live, I will never understand why no one called us or the authorities. – HEARTBROKEN IN TEXAS

Please accept my deepest sympathy for the loss of your stepson. Many kids are hesitant to “rat” on each other. They are optimistic and also consider themselves and their contemporaries to be immune to danger. In your stepson’s case, they tragically miscalculated – and, like you, will also grieve the loss of your stepson for the rest of their lives because a suicide has an impact on everyone.

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) publishes a fact sheet to help people recognize signs of depression and suicide risk. They are:

(1) Change in personality: sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic.

(2) Change in behavior: can’t concentrate on work, school, routine tasks.

(3) Change in sleep pattern: oversleeping or insomnia, sometimes with early waking.

(4) Change in eating habits: loss of appetite and weight, or overeating.

(5) Loss of interest in friends, sex, hobbies, activities previously enjoyed.

(6) Worry about money, illness (either real or imaginary).

(7) Fear of losing control, going crazy, harming self or others.

(8) Feelings of overwhelming guilt, shame, self- hatred.

(9) No hope for the future: “It will never get better; I will always feel this way.”

(10) Drug or alcohol abuse.

(11) Recent loss through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship, or loss of job, money, status, self- confidence, self-esteem.

(12) Loss of religious faith.

(13) Nightmares.

(14) Suicidal impulses, statements, plans; giving away favorite things; previous suicide attempts or gestures.

(15) Agitation, hyperactivity, restlessness may indicate masked depression.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, IMMEDIATELY call the National Hopeline Network’s toll-free access number: (800) SUICIDE (784-2433). You will automatically be linked to the closest available accredited suicide hotline. Tell the counselor who answers what is going on and you will receive help.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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