Falmouth plans suicide awareness forum after student’s death

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FALMOUTH — The School Department continues to offer support to those who need it following the unexpected death of a Falmouth High School student last week.

Although schools were closed for vacation, the department opened the high school Thursday and Friday for anyone seeking grief counseling. The 17-year-old student died Feb. 17 of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home on Inverness Road, according to police.

Assistant Principal Jon Radtke, who was at the school Friday afternoon, said at least 40 students came in over the two days specifically to talk, along with at least 20 members of the school staff.

Radtke said grief counselors were made available Monday, Feb. 22, too, and would be there as needed moving forward.

On Tuesday, FHS Principal Gregg Palmer said the school will “help out all students who continue to need support.” He said counseling is something students are always able to access.

“We’re back into our routine, which I think is always important, but do have services for students,” Palmer said.

Additionally, Palmer said Greg Marley, the clinical director of The National Alliance of Mental Illness of Maine, will hold a community forum on suicide awareness and prevention in the high school theater at 6:30 p.m. March 8. Palmer said the forum will run as long as needed and will be open to the public.

The Facebook page Faces of Falmouth High School posted a message Thursday that described the teenager as a “kind soul” and as caring and compassionate. The message was liked by more than 1,500 people and shared nearly 400 times.

“(He) represented everything Falmouth as an institution can hope to instill in its students,” the message read.

According to Falmouth Police Lt. John Kilbride, the teenager, whose name is not being released, posted a message on Facebook about harming himself. Kilbride said police received several calls from members of the public who saw the message.

Steve Addario, the director of crisis intervention services at The Opportunity Alliance, said depression is often linked with suicidal thoughts and gestures, and the message should be shared that depression can be relieved.

“Depression itself drives people to act alone. People become isolated and stuck in their own thinking,” Addario said. “… The solution is to build connections, and break isolation so those depressive thoughts can be set aside.”

Addario said warning signs to watch for include mood changes, changes in behavior, increased anger, withdrawal from friends, hopelessness and increased anxiety. He said these and other warning signs are laid out online by the American Association of Suicidology.

Addario said from the perspective of the person who is suffering, thoughts of suicide seem socially unacceptable, so the person often won’t talk about what they are feeling and will then suffer alone. Addario said the association wants to send the message that those thoughts are not abnormal, but can be addressed.

“We want to try to send the message that suicide itself is not the answer and there is hope,” he said.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34. But Addario said there are means of prevention unless the individual reaches out for professional help or to talk to others.

Addario said for an individual who is suffering, it is important to be aware that others are there for them and it is not taboo to talk about uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. He said if people know it’s OK to talk, it can open doors to more freedom.

He said there are people students naturally seek out, such as friends, neighbors, teachers, librarians or others. The important thing is to know the signs and be able to “put a hand out and say ‘I’m concerned.'”

“It’s about reaching out to those who may be struggling,” he said.

The Maine Suicide Prevention Program offers a toll-free, 24-hour hotline for anyone in crisis at 1-888-568-1112. NAMI and Sweetser both offer mental health first aid trainings to those who want to someone others can reach out to.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also a resource at 1-800-273-8255. Individuals can also chat with someone on the NSPL website.

Addario said individuals can call 2-1-1 if they want information but aren’t necessarily looking to speak with someone.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.