March 27, 2013

Schools offer counseling after child's suicide

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Counseling and support for students, parents and staff members is being offered in Regional School Unit 3 after the suicide earlier this week of a sixth-grader from Troy.

The girl, who attended Mt. View Middle School in Thorndike, died late Monday or early Tuesday at her home, according to School Superintendent Heather Perry.

"It certainly is a tragedy," Perry said. "Our hearts go out to the family, and I just want everyone to know the school is pitching in 100 percent to help."

Parents were notified as soon as school officials learned of the suicide, Perry said. District and state crisis teams, including about a dozen counselors, also went to the middle school and Troy Elementary School, she said.

Perry said rumors have been circulating about why the child took her life but the cause may never be 100 percent known.

"I will tell you that, from all of our conversations with children yesterday and today, clearly, the potential causes of this were multiple and complex," she said.

Jeffrey Trafton, chief deputy of the Waldo County Sheriff's Department, said only that there is an active investigation into the suicide and that the girl's family discovered her body Tuesday morning. Trafton said he was not certain of the child's age but had been told she was 13.

Greg Marley, a clinical social worker and senior manager of education and support for National Alliance on Mental Illness-Maine, called the suicide "an absolute tragedy."

It has been several years since anyone under the age of 14 has committed suicide in Maine, he said.

"This is really significant for all of us," Marley said. "We've been fortunate in that our rate of suicide for younger teenagers has been very low the past few years."

Discussions about suicide prevention must be ongoing, Marley said, adding that families should support children every day and should be mindful of signs that someone may be suicidal.

"One of our tag lines is, suicide prevention is up to all of us because we all have to work together," Marley said.

He said it is especially important to look for significant changes in behavior.

Marley advised asking how a youngster is doing if the child exhibits changes in mood, is depressed, is reactive and angry, talks about death or looks up information about death or suicide on the Internet.

"Say, 'What's going on? You seem different.' Open a conversation. Talk about what you observe or about the changes in mood," he said. "You never have to use the word 'suicide.' Ask openly about your concerns: 'Are you thinking about ending your life?'"

He said it is important that a friend, parent, teacher, next-door neighbor or other person start a loving, caring conversation with a child in a safe place.

Marley spoke Wednesday with school officials, including Perry, who are trying to help those affected by the suicide. Young people are struggling, and their belief about the safety of the world is being compromised, Marley said.

"They need to understand what happened. They need to understand that they're safe, that people are there to talk with them, listen to them."

A statewide crisis hotline operated by trained clinicians is available 24 hours a day for those thinking about suicide, those worried about someone else who may be suicidal, and those who may have other concerns. The number is 888-568-1112.

Marley said mobile crisis teams also are available and will travel to meet people in a location that is safe for all involved.

The hotline is part of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services in the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Perry said that after some time has passed, schools will hold a series of parent forums focusing on suicide prevention and related issues.

The communities in the school district are Troy, Jackson, Unity, Monroe, Brooks, Waldo, Knox, Liberty, Freedom, Montville and Thorndike.

Amy Calder -- 861-9247
acalder@centralmaine.com

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