Teen Accused of Urging Boyfriend's Suicide Took Meds that Hurt Her Ability to Empathize and Reason: Psychiatrist
"She's not thinking she's doing something criminal, she found a way to help her boyfriend," Dr. Peter Breggin testified Monday
A psychiatrist testified on Monday that Michelle Carter, who stands accused of urging friend Conrad Roy to kill himself in 2014, was prescribed antidepressants that may have impeded her abilities to empathize with others and make sound decisions.
Appearing Monday on behalf of the defense in the involuntary manslaughter trial, Dr. Peter Breggin spoke about the effects of Celexa, a medication that treats depression and anxiety.
Breggin, who said he had examined Carter prior to taking the witness stand, told the court the 20-year-old was prescribed the medication in 2014, when she was 17 — not long before 18-year-old Conrad Roy III’s suicide.
According to the Boston Globe, the psychiatrist said Celexa can inhibit impulse control. Breggin added that drugs like Celexa “disrupt the frontal lobe function” and that “the young brain is more susceptible to harm” from such drugs.
“Someone who wouldn’t do anything outlandish or dangerous might when the frontal lobe is injured in some way,” Breggin testified, the paper reports.
Roy was found dead in his truck on July 13, 2014, from carbon monoxide poisoning. A hose attached to a portable generator fed the fatal fumes into his vehicle, which was parked outside of a Kmart in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.
Defense attorneys for Carter, 20, have argued Roy was going to commit suicide with or without her input, and that Carter was not the decisive influence. Carter has pleaded not guilty to the charge, which carries a possible penalty of 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors have cited more than 1,000 texts Carter and Roy in the week prior to his death, along with accounts she relayed to others, to allege that she knew he wanted to kill himself and pushed him to do so. The prosecution alleges that Carter acted in such a manner to draw attention to herself.
Prosecutors allege Carter acted recklessly when she pressured Roy into suicide. Carter had told her peers via text message that she had listened over her cellphone as Roy died.
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The Globe reports that Breggin spent most of Monday morning painting a vasty different picture of Carter than the one presented by prosecutors last week.
In court on Monday, Breggin said that he reviewed the text messages the two teens exchanged, according to MassLive.com. In one, Roy shared details about his four previous suicide attempts with Carter.
According to CBS Boston, Breggin told the judge Carter tried talking Roy out of it, even sending him information on anxiety and how to manage it.
“I’m trying my best to dig you out,” she allegedly wrote in one text message. Breggin said that Roy replied, “I don’t want to be dug out,” the Globe reports.
On another occasion, Carter apparently wrote in a message to Roy: “You aren’t going to get better on your own. You need professional help like me.”
Breggin said the antidepressants altered Carter’s brain chemistry, and that her supportive messages turned into goadings to kill himself. He said Carter wanted to use her “unique power” to help Roy achieve what he wanted, which was death.
“She’s not thinking she’s doing something criminal, she found a way to help her boyfriend,” Breggin testified, according to the Globe.
Prosecutors attempted to contradict Breggin’s testimony, saying that Carter had lied about cutting herself when she was a teen.
On Friday, Carter’s attorney, Joseph P. Cataldo, expanded on his allegation that Roy was distraught over his parents’ divorce and had suffered from physical and emotional abuse.
He called to the stand Mattapoisett Police Officer Justin King, who responded in February 2014 to an assault call at Roy’s home and discovered Conrad Roy with injuries to his face.
Testimony in the case will resume on Tuesday.
Suicide Prevention: What to Know
Experts say some common warning signs of suicide include discussing a desire to die or feeling anxious or hopeless, like a burden, or trapped or in pain; withdrawing from others; extreme mood swings, including anger and recklessness; and abnormal sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little).
Many suicides have multiple causes and are not triggered by one event, according to experts, who underline that suicidal crises can be overcome with help. Where mental illness is a factor, it can be treated.
Reaching out to those in need is a simple and effective preventative measure, experts say.
If you or someone you know is showing warning signs of suicide, consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, texting the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or seeking help from a professional.