Parents of a Local Teenager Who Committed Suicide Speak Out

"I just walked in and fell apart... fell apart."

Vicki Tyson is talking about her discovery of her son's body, just after he had shot himself in the head with one of his hunting rifles in their Winterville home this week.

"I'm going to miss his sweet smile," she said Thursday. "His kind voice. His beautiful blue eyes. Him coming down the street with his music blasting. I'm going to miss everything."

Michael Keith Tyson was a senior at D.H. Conley in Winterville. Vicki and her husband, Jim, said Michael was suffering from depression. They said for the past several months, Michael had been on anti-depression medication and visiting a psychiatrist. But in the past couple of weeks, his family had noticed a significant change in his behavior.

"He would get so angry," said Jim Tyson. "He was slashing his arms. And when he'd go outside he would pound his hands on the building."

It got so bad Michael's parents said they had considered having their son committed just a few days before he took his own life. As they try to come to grips with what happened, they're trying to remember the good things.

"He wanted to go into the military," said Jim Tyson. "I'm a Vietnam vet. He often said he wanted to go into service because he wanted to be like his daddy. He wanted to be a hero and come and make me proud. But what he didn't know was just how proud of him I already was."

Jim and Vicki Tyson said they wanted to tell their story in the hopes it will prevent this tragedy from happening in another family. Extended Web Coverage

Suicide FAQ

  • What should you do if someone tells you they are thinking about suicide?
    If someone tells you they are thinking about suicide, you should take their distress seriously, listen nonjudgmentally, and help them get to a professional for evaluation and treatment. If someone is in imminent danger of harming himself or herself, do not leave the person alone. You may need to take emergency steps to get help, such as calling 911.

  • What are the most common methods of suicide?
    Firearms are the most commonly used method of suicide for men and women, accounting for 60 percent of all suicides. Nearly 80 percent of all firearm suicides are committed by white males. The second most common method for men is hanging; for women, the second most common method is self-poisoning including drug overdose.

  • Who is at highest risk for suicide in the U.S.?
    There is a common perception that suicide rates are highest among the young. However, it is the elderly, particularly older white males that have the highest rates. And among white males 65 and older, risk goes up with age. White men 85 and older have a suicide rate that is six times that of the overall national rate. Some older persons are less likely to survive attempts because they are less likely to recuperate.

  • What biological factors increase risk for suicide?
    Researchers believe that both depression and suicidal behavior can be linked to decreased serotonin in the brain. Low levels of a serotonin metabolite, 5-HIAA, have been detected in cerebral spinal fluid in persons who have attempted suicide, as well as by postmortem studies examining certain brain regions of suicide victims. One of the goals of understanding the biology of suicidal behavior is to improve treatments. Scientists have learned that serotonin receptors in the brain increase their activity in persons with major depression and suicidality, which explains why medications that desensitize or down-regulate these receptors (such as the serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs) have been found effective in treating depression. Currently, studies are underway to examine to what extent medications like SSRIs can reduce suicidal behavior.

  • Can the risk for suicide be inherited?
    There is growing evidence that familial and genetic factors contribute to the risk for suicidal behavior. Major psychiatric illnesses, including bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism and substance abuse, and certain personality disorders, which run in families, increase the risk for suicidal behavior. This does not mean that suicidal behavior is inevitable for individuals with this family history; it simply means that such persons may be more vulnerable and should take steps to reduce their risk, such as getting evaluation and treatment at the first sign of mental illness.

  • Is it possible to predict suicide?
    At the current time there is no definitive measure to predict suicide or suicidal behavior. Researchers have identified factors that place individuals at higher risk for suicide, but very few persons with these risk factors will actually commit suicide. Risk factors include mental illness, substance abuse, previous suicide attempts, family history of suicide, history of being sexually abused, and impulsive or aggressive tendencies. Suicide is a relatively rare event and it is therefore difficult to predict which persons with these risk factors will ultimately commit suicide.

Stats: Suicide Deaths, U.S., 2001

  • Suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • It was the eighth leading cause of death for males, and 19th leading cause of death for females.
  • The total number of suicide deaths was 30,622.
  • Suicides outnumbered homicides (20,308) by three to two.
  • There were twice as many deaths due to suicide than deaths due to HIV/AIDS (14,175).
  • Suicide by firearms was the most common method for both men and women, accounting for 55 percent of all suicides.

          Gender and Suicide

  • More men than women die by suicide. The gender ratio is 4:1.
  • 73 percent of all suicide deaths are white males.
  • 80 percent of all firearm suicide deaths are white males.
  • Among the highest rates (when categorized by gender and race) are suicide deaths for white men over 85, who had a rate of 54/100,000.
  • Suicide was the third leading cause of death among young people 15 to 24 years of age, following unintentional injuries and homicide.
  • The suicide rate among children ages 10-14 was 1.3/100,000 or 272 deaths among 20,910,440 children in this age group. The gender ratio for this age group was 3:1 (males: females).
  • The suicide rate among adolescents aged 15-19 was 7.9/100,000 or 1,611 deaths among 20,271,312 adolescents in this age group. The gender ratio for this age group was 5:1 (males: females).
  • Among young people 20 to 24 years of age, the suicide rate was 12/100,000 or 2,360 deaths among 19,711,423 people in this age group. The gender ratio for this age group was 7:1 (males: females).

          Attempted Suicides

          Research indicates that:

  • There are an estimated 8-25 attempted suicides for each suicide death; the ratio is higher in women and youth and lower in men and the elderly.
  • More women than men report a history of attempted suicide, with a gender ratio of 3:1.