The Families | Downing Family

This is the family’s first time to appear together in a film about the tragic death  of Candace Leigh.

This is Andy, Mathy and Caroline Downing’s first time ever to appear together in a film about the tragic death of their daughter and sister, Candace Leigh Downing. Having turned down media approaches in the past, they were reluctant at first, but agreed to participate in Prescription: Suicide? once they had talked to and met the directors of the film and understood the overall theme of the documentary.
Mrs. Mathy Downing is a past member of the Board of Trustees for the school both girls attended, and continued to act as a room parent for Candace’s eighth grade class even though Candace died during seventh grade. After a six month medical leave beginning with the death of her daughter, she returned to her job, that of teaching children. Andrew is a businessman, and Caroline is in her junior year of high school.
The first hint they had that their 12 year old daughter Candace Leigh Downing might be suicidal was when they found her hanging from the valance of her bed.

Recalls Mathy Downing, “I went to check on her upstairs and found my beautiful little girl hanging, her knees drawn up. I don’t know how long she had been there. I began screaming for my husband and rushed to get her down and lay her on the floor. I called 911, praying they could get there in time. My husband tried to administer CPR, but he knew the minute that he saw her, that it was too late. She was taken by ambulence to the closest hospital where they worked on her another 45 minutes, but it was too late. “Do you know what that’s like, to see your happy little girl hanging? There was no note, no warning, not for her, not for us.”

Mathy and Andy Downing blame the anti-depressant drug, Zoloft. The Downings say Candace wasn’t suicidal — wasn’t even depressed. Depression had never been the issue. She was prescribed Zoloft for a generalized anxiety disorder which had manifested in school anxiety.

When Candace entered middle school, she began having problems on tests and frustration over certain homework assignments. She would block on answers she knew on tests, or write so illegibly that some answers were marked incorrect, even if she had them correct. Because of her parents’ concern, she saw her pediatrician, who recommended that she see a child psychiatrist. Candace was viewed as a very bright little girl, an overachiever.

Although pleased that Candace seemed to have an easy rapport with the psychiatrist and appeared to have no problems talking to him about her frustrations, he immediately wanted to medicate her. Mathy was opposed, but he reassured her that it was safe and that he would recheck her in three weeks. After three weeks, he wanted to double that amount, from 12.5mg to 25mg of Zoloft, which Mathy opposed. She did not feel that three weeks was enough time to judge that type of medication. Because of her vehemence, the medication was not increased at that time.

Candace was tested both psychologically and educationally. The findings showed a very bright little girl who had a tendency to shut down somewhat when frustrated, but who tried hard to please. She was very bright, but not a risk taker. She exhibited no signs of depression or suicidality, but high levels of anxiety. She loved her family and her friends and considered home her “safe haven”.

Right before school started following summer vacation, Mathy and Candace returned to the child psychiatrist, who once again wanted to increase Candace’s dosage of Zoloft, his reasoning being that with 7th grade, came a new level of daily transitions and that it would be in Candace’s best interest to be less stressed. When Mathy voiced concern, he stated, “What are you worried about? Kids take 100-200mg of Zoloft a day without any problems.”

“Why was so much hidden from us? Why were we not ever informed about the contraindications or adverse reactions of Zoloft, or for that matter, antidepressants in children? Didn’t we have the right to be informed?…
Shouldn’t it have been our choice to place Candace on medications that involved risk rather than the pharmaceutical companies or the FDA?”
Mathy Downing, Candace's father

Everyone had been important to Candace. She had more friends than many other child her age. Everybody loved her. In her personal journals, she always wrote about her family first, then her friends and her animals. Her promise was to never leave her friends.

When she died, 1000+ people attended her service, which had to be held in the school gym. Three local private schools provided buses to transport people from a park opened for excess parking, to the school. Bishop John Chane, the bishop of Washington, helped officiate. Candace was everybody’s little girl, i.e. this could happen to her, it could happen to anyone’s child.

“Do you know what it’s like to go from being a sibling to an only child? It is extremely hard to see your “parents in pain when you, yourself, are grieving.”Caroline, Candace's big sister

In retrospect, the Downings have also become very much aware after the fact, that an abrupt withdrawal from an anti-depressant can prove fatal. The sudden withdrawal of these drugs creates psychotic states, which decrease powers of reasoning, and places them in altered states of consciousness. No one ever told them that their daughter was going in and out of psychotic states and needed to be watched closely every second.

“If we had been able to make our own choices, if we had been aware of the risks, this would never have happened, as we would never have allowed Candace to be placed on such a risky and controversial medication,” says Andrew Downing.

“What happened to our daughter and so many others like her is a travesty. We have since met other families who have lost their child after Zoloft was prescribed for test anxiety. Those in a position to create positive change can go home to their children at night. We will never have that opportunity with Candace again. Our therapist referred to what happened to Candace as abduction. She was taken away from us with no warning and died in the process. What gave them that right?”, Mathy stated tearfully.

Whether or not drugs like Zoloft, used to treat OCD and depression, really do cause suicides is a matter of medical debate. But another debate is running. The Downings, and other families, charge that drug makers knew from pre-marketing studies that these drugs made some children and teens suicidal, but hid the study results, and altered other studies by pooling negative studies together to show more positive results.

“This is not about money,” says Mathy Downing, “This is about the right of the American people to make their own decisions. I can’t sit back as an American citizen and watch children continue to die. And that is why we hope the documentary Prescription: Suicide? will help to get that message out where it counts: among the American families whose biggest concern is to protect and nurture their children.”

The Downings have testified at FDA hearings and are lobbying congress to make all research public.
Mathy Downing has also addressed the US Drug Safety Systems Committee, which is reviewing the numerous allegations against the FDA’s handling of policy regarding anti-depressants among medical controversies.