Family copes with loss, urges teens to reach out

Suicide is on the rise and is the third leading cause of death for teens


Staff Writer

MILLSTONE — The mother of a 15-year-old boy who committed suicide last month is hoping others can learn from her family’s tragedy.

“I ask myself all the time, maybe if we did this or that,” said Joan Napoliello. “I only hope that if we would have had any signal, we’d have been able to stop him. We’ll never know.”

Nicholas Napoliello took his own life on Oct. 12.

While dealing with the family’s devastating and shocking loss, Napoliello is now pleading with other children to tell someone if they know of a student who may be contemplating suicide.

“Just pass the word,” she told her late son’s peers during the funeral. “Don’t be afraid. Nobody thought this would happen with Nick. We miss him dearly.”

Napoliello said that since the tragedy, she has heard several rumors about her son, but she does not know what to believe. She said she wishes that someone could have told her that he was considering suicide.

This local family is not alone in dealing with such a tragedy, according to a nationwide Web site on the subject.

The site, created by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) in Washington, D.C., states that teenage suicides have increased dramatically during recent years. According to the site, suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens ages 15-24, and the sixth leading cause of death among youths age 5-14.

“Teenagers experience strong feelings of stress, confusion, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty and other fears while growing up,” according to information on the Web site.

The AACAP represents more than 7,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists with at least five years of additional training beyond medical school.

According to the Web site, the key is to detect the problem and find an appropriate treatment.

The site lists several signs to watch for in teens who may be contemplating suicide and also states that many of the symptoms of suicidal feelings are similar to those of depression.

Signs include a change in eating and sleeping habits; withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities; violent actions, rebellious behavior, or running away; drug use and alcohol use; unusual neglect of personal appearance; marked personality change; persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or a decline in the quality of school work; frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as stomach aches, headaches, fatigue, etc.; a loss of interest in pleasurable activities; and not tolerating praise or rewards.

According to the site, a teenager who is planning to commit suicide may also complain of being a bad person or feeling rotten inside; give verbal hints indicating that he or she might not be around for much longer; put his or her affairs in order (for example, by giving away favorite possessions); become suddenly cheerful after a period of depression; or exhibit signs of psychosis, such as hallucinating or having bizarre thoughts.

For the Napoliellos, the tragedy was completely unexpected.

Napoliello described her son as “a happy kid, always trying to please.” She said he enjoyed the outdoors, as well as gymnastics, swimming and playing on the trampoline. In eighth grade, he portrayed Nathan Detroit in a middle school production of “Guys and Dolls.”

“We’d never heard him sing,” his mother recalled. “When he belted out that first song, we were shocked — and quite proud of him.”

Joan and Robert Napoliello have two other sons, Anthony 18, and Joseph, 12.

Napoliello recalled that Nick and Joseph spent a lot of time together. They built a tree swing in the back yard and had started on a fort. They also enjoyed making movies and videos together.

Most of all, she said, Nick liked to be with his family.

Nick’s death came almost one year after a friend of his died. Napoliello said she does not know whether his friend’s death could have been a trigger for her son. She remembered that Nick had cried when he learned about the death of Joseph Petrella, and they had talked about it.

Now, she is resigned to the fact that she will always wonder why, but prefers to cherish her many happy memories of her middle son.

“We’ll never know,” she said. “We have to live with the happiness we had with him.”

Nick’s death impacted many students at Allentown High School.

Recently, Principal Christopher Nagy told the Upper Freehold Regional School District Board of Education how the school handled the tragedy.

According to Nagy, when the administration heard the news, the crisis intervention team immediately got together. Members included guidance counselors and the child study team. Team members went to various areas of the building before the announcement was made.

Between 40 and 50 students met in the library to receive counseling, and 130 students were sent home with parents. No student who drove to school that day was permitted to drive home early, Nagy said.

Napoliello’s brother, Kevin Ferraro, who was Nick’s godfather, has set up a scholarship fund in Nick’s name. Money has been coming in and while the family is still deciding the specifics, the fund will be used to help an Allentown High School student in some way.

Donations may be sent to the Nicholas Robert Napoliello Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o PNC Bank, 591 Route 33 and Millstone Road, Englishtown 07726.