Death of Yarmouth teenager under investigation as suicide

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YARMOUTH — Police are investigating the death of a 13-year-old girl as a suspected suicide.

The girl, a seventh-grade student at Harrison Middle School, was found unresponsive in her home by family members around 6:15 p.m. Monday, Jan. 29, according to Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland. She was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she died shortly after arrival.

Yarmouth Police and Yarmouth Rescue initially responded to the home. Under state protocol for the investigation of suicides involving anyone under 17, Maine State Police joined the investigation.

An autopsy by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was scheduled for Wednesday.

In a letter to parents Tuesday, Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff said the district is working with mental health professionals throughout the region “to ensure that our students are well cared for in the wake of this difficult news.”

Dolloff provided links to online resources that parents and families can use to engage children in conversations regarding depression and suicide, including Maine Center for Grieving Children’s “What to Tell Children About Suicide” and the National Association of School Psychologists’ “Preventing Youth Suicide.

In an email Tuesday, Dolloff said Yarmouth schools will continue to provide counseling services for students throughout the day Wednesday.

“We are deeply saddened by this loss. My heart breaks for (her) family,” Dolloff said, noting the student played field hockey and was a chorus member. “She was a bubbly, compassionate young lady by all accounts.”

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2013-2015, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for people age 10-34 in Maine. The office said that every two weeks a person under 25 years old dies by suicide.

In a 2017 integrated youth health study of middle school students in Cumberland County, more than 19 percent of 13-year-old students reported feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more consecutive weeks that they’ve stopped doing some usual activities.The same study showed that 15 percent on 13-year-old students in Cumberland County have seriously thought about committing suicide.

Jenna Mehnert, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Maine, said warning signs of juvenile depression could be social isolation and a sense of hopelessness.

It’s important, Mehnert said, for every child to have a trusted adult to confide in, whether it be a parent, guardian, teacher, counselor, or coach.

“We talk about physical health in children a lot, but not so much mental well-being,” she added during a phone interview.

Mehnert noted that the brain isn’t fully developed until at least 22 years old, meaning that, rather then battling depression for a long time, juveniles sometimes have difficulty looking past one upsetting or traumatic event.

“Their ability to see beyond that moment may be challenged,” Mehnert said.

While anything could cause a feeling of hopelessness in an adolescent, Mehnert said rather than try to explain a death by suicide, it is important to help support those who are grieving.

One of Greg Marley’s jobs as clinical director and senior trainer of NAMI Maine’s Youth Suicide Prevention Team is to reach out to communities and schools to offer support after a tragic event.

“Most schools go decades without losing a student to suicide,” Marley said by phone Tuesday. “So when it does happen … it is important to identify students who are particularly affected and follow up with them.”

Offering support to not only students, but faculty in districts affected by the loss of a student is important, Marley said.

Those who may be at a higher risk after tragic events are not only friends of the victims, but those who may feel guilt or a sense of responsibility, or those who are constitutionally vulnerable and have suffered other losses.
“In most cases, there will be a strong immediate reaction to these tragic events … (but) that level of feeling will go down rapidly,” Marley said. “The smaller number where that doesn’t happen is where you’d like to focus.”
Often, adolescents experience an emotional reaction based on the support system, or lack of, they have in place. Marley said he advises parents and guardians to be upfront and open when discussing difficult topics, such as suicide. If the parent or guardian is uncomfortable with having the conversation, it’s important that there is an adult in a child’s life who can discuss the topic with them.
“They should acknowledge that a bad thing happened,” Marley said. “What we’ve heard from kids under 15 is that they’re going through the ringer, and they’re thinking about it, but no one talks to them about it.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Suicide crisis hotline

If you or anyone you know is battling depression or has had suicidal thoughts, help is available from the Maine Crisis Hotline, 888-568-1112. State resources are also available by calling 211.

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