||In 2003, at the age of 45, I experienced my first major depression. I suffered
a relapse in 2004. One-week into my relapse, I had a severe psychotic episode.
Two-weeks into my psychotic episode, I killed my 11-year-old son Ian.
I killed Ian at 3:00am on July 31, 2004. After he was dead, I moved his body to the centre of the bed, kissed him on the lips and told him " I love you, I'm really going to miss you, but you're in a better place now". I didn't cry. I walked out of the room in the hotel suite and turned on the television. I watched it until after 6:00, without any emotion. At 6:30, I shaved, showered and took off my wedding ring. I didn't want the police to have it, so I put it in my bag, which I thought would end up with my wife. At 7:30, I packed up Ian's bag and my own. I took both bags to the van. The only items that I left in the room were Ian's epilepsy medication, the sleep medication that I mixed with his orange juice the night before, the left over orange juice, my Paxil medication, and my wallet and keys. At 9:00am, I called 911. I calmly told the dispatcher that I was reporting a homicide, and that I had killed by son. She kept me on the line. I told her that I wasn't suicidal. Towards the end of the call, I moved away from the phone to put a plastic cup under the door so the door would be open for the police. I didn't want them to break down the door or come in with their guns out. I just wanted to go to jail. My mission was completed. I was ready to spend 25 years in prison. The police put my hands behind my back, handcuffed me, and sat me down in a chair. I was charged with first-degree murder and taken to the police station.
I 've seen more than a dozen forensic psychiatrists since August 2004. There's consensus among them that medical researchers don't know what triggers psychosis. Psychosis is a mystery to many mental health professionals. I can't find a book that explains psychosis in bookstores or libraries. One thing I do know, is that my psychotic episode didn't resemble how "psychos" are often portrayed in movies and television shows such as Law & Order, Criminal Minds and CSI. I was calm, numb and my thoughts were well organized. I was obsessed with one thing, Ian. I talked clearly and believed that killing Ian was the right thing to do. I shared every detail with the police. I didn't want a lawyer. I knew I murdered Ian and was prepared to spend the rest of my life in prison.
It's hard for me to believe, and understand, what happened. I had never experienced psychosis before. I didn't even know what psychosis was.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, psychosis refers to a loss of contact with reality. It can come on suddenly or can develop very gradually. Symptoms of psychosis can vary from person to person and may change over time. The symptoms may include:
- Changes in thinking patterns (difficulty concentrating; loss of memory; disconnected thoughts)
- Delusions (fixed, false beliefs that are not consistent with the person's culture, and have no basis in fact)
- Hallucinations (people hear, see, taste, smell or feel something that does not actually exist)
- Changes in mood (finding it hard to express feelings; feeling inappropriate or intense bursts of emotions; feeling empty of any emotions; depression)
- Very disorganized behaviour (cannot complete everyday tasks such as bathing, dressing appropriately and preparing single meals)
- Thoughts of death or suicide
I had 5 delusions during my psychotic episode. They were that Ian was:
- In living hell
- Permanently brain damaged
- Going to kill my daughter
- Going to cause my wife to have a nervous breakdown
- Going to hurt other children
Although medical researchers don't know what triggers psychosis, there is evidence to suggest that psychosis is caused by an underlying biological issue in the brain. And that drugs can induce psychosis.
According to researchers, sustained and/or excessive use of any psychoactive drug can induce psychosis. Some of the street drugs that can induce psychosis are LSD, Magic Mushrooms, GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), GBL (gamma-butyrolactone), Mescaline, Psilocybin, Cocaine, Crack, Cannabis (marijauna), Amphetamines, Heroine, Ecstacy (methylenedioxyamphetamine-MDMA), and Crystal Meth (methamphetamine).
There is also evidence to suggest that psychosis can be induced by prescription drugs. The 2004 edition of the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialities, published by the Canadian Pharmacists Association, lists psychotic symptoms as rare side effects of various drugs including the antidepressants Effexor, Luvox, Paxil, and Zoloft. The information on the antidepressant Prozac identifies mania, suicidal ideation and violent behaviour as rare adverse effects.
The potential of some antidepressants to induce severe psychotic episodes is supported by the following tragedies, including my own:
- Donald Schnell, 60, had been taking Paxil for just 48 hours before he shot and killed his wife, his daughter, his granddaughter and himself on February 13, 1998. In June 2001, GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of Paxil, was ordered to pay $6.5 million to the relatives of Donald Schnell.
- Kip Kinkel killed his parents and then opened fire at his Springfield, Oregon high school on May 21, 1998. He was, apparently, taking Prozac a few days before the massacre.
- Eric Harris, one of the shooters at the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 29, 1999, was taking Luvox at the time of the mass murders. There was virtually no mention of the word "Luvox" during the thousands of hours of prime-time media coverage, yet Dr. Peter Breggin, a prominent psychiatrist and author of Toxic Psychiatry, stated "with Luvox, there is some evidence of a 4 percent rate for mania in adolescents. Mania, for certain individuals, could be a component in grandiose plans to destroy large numbers of other people. Mania can go over the hill to psychosis."
- Andrea Yates, who drowned her 5 children in a bathtub in Texas in 2001, was on twice the recommended maximum limit of Effexor for postpartum depression until a few days before she committed the mass murders.
- In early July 2001, a 16-year-old boy from Edmonton, who was suffering from depression and had just attempted suicide, had his dosage of Paxil increased from 20mg. to 40mg. a day by his physician. On July 31, he repeatedly stabbed his best friend Leeane, her 12-year-old sister Madeleine and their mother Deb with a 20cm. butcher knife. None of the victims died.
- In 2004, an Australian judge ruled that Paxil and Zoloft were to blame in a case involving a mother who attempted to kill herself and her two children while under the influence of the drugs. Australian Chief Justice David Malcolm stated "authorities should provide warnings on the drugs and doctors should monitor patients and make them aware of the possible side effects. Patients should also question any increase in drugs if their condition was not improving."
- On July 8, 2004, I put myself back on 40mg. of Paxil from my previous prescription. Within a few days, I was starting to have suicidal thoughts. I thought I could get rid of the thoughts and recover more quickly if I increased my dosage. On July 17, I started taking 60mg. of Paxil a day. Three days later, I planned my suicide. I went from planning my suicide to planning a murder-suicide to planning a murder. On July 31, I killed my son.
Some pharmaceutical companies have issued warnings about their antidepressants. For example, in May 2006, GlaxoSmithKline warned doctors that adults under the age of 30 might be at an elevated risk of suicide attempts while taking Paxil, extending beyond the children group that had been previously warned.
Medical researchers are also warning the public. On May 1, 2006, the Globe and Mail issued a warning that a popular class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may trigger intense suicidal thoughts in seniors. The lead author of the study was Dr. David Juurlink, a scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. The SSRIs include Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft.
According to Dr. David Healy, an internationally renowned psychopharmacologist and director of psychiatric medicine at the University of Wales's college of medicine, some of the leading antidepressants on the market can cause suicide and violent reactions in some users. His views are shared by Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, author of Prozac Backlash, who argues that antidepressants can cause both suicidal and homicidal behaviour. "These are terrible tragedies, but antidepressants can do this to people."
The research suggests that individuals of all ages should be closely monitored for suicidal and homicidal thoughts and behaviours for 1-month after they start taking antidepressants, such as SSRIs, and after they increase their dosage. Individuals should also be closely monitored when they stop taking antidepressants.
When I was psychotic, I wasn't aware that there was anything wrong with the way that I was thinking. One-way that someone could have discovered that I was psychotic was to ask me about something other than Ian. I was obsessed with Ian. I couldn't think or talk about anything else during the week of the murder. By reflecting on my own tragedy, and from interacting with other psychotic individuals, I've learned that it's difficult to divert the attention of someone who is in a severe psychotic episode. They tend to keep coming back to their distorted obsessions.
Early intervention is an essential first step for individuals experiencing a psychotic episode. Psychosis often becomes more intense over time. They must see a psychiatrist. The treatment usually consists of antipsychotic medication and talk therapy (e.g. counselling). The medication is usually essential. It relieves symptoms of psychosis and may prevent further psychotic episodes. In rare cases, early intervention is a matter of life or death.