January 14, 2009

Jason Montes was on meds for depression; his family didn't see the violence coming

Hours before Jason Montes fatally shot his young wife, Serena, before killing himself in his Concord home Sunday evening, he had been visiting his parents, and his father says he saw nothing “out of the ordinary” in his son’s behavior.

So reports Robert Salonga in this excellent report in the Contra Costa Times:

The father, Angel Montes, describes his only child Jason, 33, as “a mellow personality personality who was coming to grips with a looming divorce from Serena Montes. His sentiments fall in line with those of his daughter-in-law's family, who also said the violence was unexpected.

"This was not the son we raised and who grew up in the house," Montes, 61, said. "We didn't see it coming. We're completely devastated."

The elder Montes said his son rarely let his family know his feelings, but that he had grown enamored with the woman who became his wife, Serena Lesley, after a chance online meeting. They were married in September 2007.

"He really fell in love with her," he said. "We could see that from the get-go."

But by some point last summer, the two were growing apart, according to family on both sides of the marriage. That coincided with Jason Montes filing for bankruptcy.

In the shooting's aftermath, Angel Montes said he has been learning that his son had become troubled during the past year and had twice threatened suicide. For a spell, the junior Montes was seeing a psychiatrist and taking Prozac to treat symptoms of depression, his father said.
It’s unclear from the article whether Montes was still on Prozac. Anti-depressants are serious drugs, even though general practitioners often prescribe them rather liberally to anyone who comes into their offices, complaining of general sadness or anxiety.

I currently take a very low dose of Prozac, under the supervision of a psychiatrist, for some mild depression that has come over me over the past year or so. I worked with this doctor on reducing the dose because, in the first few weeks, it gave me more than a lift in mood. It made me shaky and agitated and feeling not “like myself.”

Of course, this psychiatrist and others will tell you that it takes your brain and body to adjust to these drugs.

It’s also generally known that giving anti-depressants to someone who, in fact, suffers from bipolar disorder can so lift that person’s mood that it can shoot him or her into a manic state. Sometimes, people with bipolar disorder are first diagnosed as having “depression” and given anti-depressants.

If you’re prescribed these medications, you are also strongly advised to not suddenly stop taking them. Doing so can plunge you into a very dark, tormented place.

It will be interesting to learn more about whether Montes was still on the Prozac and taking it as prescribed. The results of a toxicology test during the autopsy should show what, if any, drugs he had in his system at the time of his death.

Even if he was on the medication, and needed to take something for his depression, Prozac might not have been the right drug for him. That’s one of the frustrating things about medications to treat mental illnesses. One kind works for one person, but it doesn’t work for another. Some people with mental illness need to experiment with a series of drugs or combinations to find the right mix for them. Also, a drug that was working great can suddenly start to not work, perhaps because the body gets used to it enough that it builds up a tolerance for it.

I know someone has long dealt with heavy-duty depression, and was taking one anti-depressant successfully for several years. Over the past couple weeks, this friend’s mood has plummeted, and he and his doctor are worried that the medication has stopped working.

As for Angel Montes not seeing the violence coming from his son: Okay, Jason Montes had threatened suicide in the past. That’s a red flag. But then, from this Times article, it sounds like he was in attempting to deal with those suicidal thoughts by seeing the psychiatrist and taking the Prozac.

That Jason acted normally the morning of his death, or that the he had seemed to enjoy watching a movie at his parents’ house in the company of friends the evening before? That doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been there with a close family member who carefully hid his daily thoughts of suicide and his undiagnosed mental illness behind a veneer of an easy-going personality and professional success. According to the Times article, Jason Montes graduated from high school, studied graphic design, worked for a web consulting firm in Redwood City and was looking to get a job in film animation.

Some people who are deeply troubled, as with the case with Jason Montes perhaps, work very hard to hide their inner turmoil. Why? For a number of reasons, I’ve found. They don’t want to scare their loved ones. They are afraid of being locked up in an institution. They are terrified of facing the fact that they are terribly troubled. The stigma of having a “mental illness” is still pretty strong in are society. Finally, the illness itself can make it hard for the person to judge for themselves how sick they are.

From this article, though, it sounds like Jason Montes was planning something the entire time he was acting “ordinary” in his parents’ and friends’ company. “It was later learned that while in Sacramento, Jason Montes had taken a small-caliber pistol his father had acquired during his military days. It had never been fired until that evening," the article says.

We’ve read the rest: that about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Jason Montes called a friend in Sacramento, saying he had just shot his wife and was going to kill himself. By the time word got to Concord police and officers entered the home, he was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head and Serena Montes had been fatally wounded.

I know that many people want to label Jason Montes a selfish cold-blooded monster because of what he did to Serena. I can’t argue against point, though my heart breaks for him and his family, as well as Serena and her family.

It's tough to read what Angel Montel is going through. He told the Times that he is not absolving his son, “but instead is holding on to the memory of the person he knew: the science-fiction fan and comic book collector who had a magic touch with computers and loved personal technology. ‘He's still the same person I thought would never harm somebody else or himself,’ he said. ‘We're trying to figure out what went wrong.’ "


Anonymous said...

Soccer Mom is right about Prozac being a serious drug. It needs to be handled carefully. A friend was on it, and it helped. Thenshe started thinking she didnt need it went off and starting getting really depressed and talked about suicide. Her husband had to take her to the emergency room. She's back on the meds and doing better.

Anonymous said...

I knew Jason before he met his wife. He was a man of deep feelings, and a good friend. I know it sounds trite to tell people not to judge the man by his actions during his last minutes on Earth, and I don't know if it was the meds or the depression that caused it. But for 99.99% of his life, he was a very decent human being.

Anonymous said...

i happen to be the younger cousin of Serena and i dont blame him for what he did. i blame the meds he was on still it was very traumatic to go through and i send my reguards to jasons family because they lost a son as well