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COVID-19 isolation drives Brunswick teenager to suicide

Spencer Smith, 16, died on Friday. He wrote a note to his parents saying he was struggling in school, felt stuck in the house, and drifting from his friends.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — A teenager in Brunswick died by suicide on Friday. Now his family is speaking out, and says it's not about them, but about other teens who are feeling the same way during the pandemic.

Spencer Smith left a note for his parents, writing about feeling locked in the house and growing apart from his friends. 

"He's loved by so many that it's hard to believe he's this depressed and he did this," Spencer's dad, Jay Smith said.

Spencer was just 16-years-old.

Jay said kids and teenagers need better support during this pandemic. Smith added that kids need to be back in school and doing extracurricular activities.

"The kids need their peers more than ever now," Jay said

Pastor Mark Rockwood, the Chaplin at the Brunswick Police Department, responded to the call at the Smith's home on Friday. 

Rockwood said he's hearing from a lot of teens in his youth group about not being able to see their friends, some of them saying they have friends who are having dark thoughts, just like Spencer did.

"It's already a stressful time for many of them," Rockwood said. "And now, when they don't have the ability to have that social interaction with one another, that puts more added stress on them."

According to a recent article in the International Journal of Medicine, studies show that social isolation is often connected with suicidal behavior.

The article goes on to say "[...] from a suicide prevention perspective, it is troubling that the most important public health approach for the COVID-19 epidemic is social distancing."

Brunswick Superintendent Phillip Potenziano released a statement after Spencer's death:

"Brunswick High School School staff was informed that Spencer Smith, a 10th grader at Brunswick High School, died by suicide.

When I spoke to the Smith Family, I offered my personal condolences, and I grieve alongside them and the greater Brunswick Community.

As Superintendent, I know that the pandemic has been a stressor for everyone, students, staff, and parents. Students' academic life and new family life patterns, work-life, and social life have been completely disrupted. Our entire state and nation are reeling from feelings of isolation.

The fact is that these times are the hardest any of our students have ever had to face. As the pandemic continues to expand, there are growing feelings of social isolation. Our children and schools are under incredible stress, each trying to do our best. There are no easy answers.

There will be a time to review and strengthen what we have in place for students, but right now - it is the time to support this family, our students, and staff.

However, we are working with local providers and NAMI, and we will be providing more detailed information at our school board meeting tomorrow night.

Now more than ever, parents and guardians are encouraged to take the time to talk and keep the lines of communication inside the family open and supportive. One of the most important and helpful things to do is to listen to our children.

The Brunswick School District is collaborating with local and state mental health professionals. Brunswick High School’s Crisis Response Team is present in person and virtually to provide information and support to our students and staff."

The Midcoast Youth Center also offering condolences and encouraging people to talk about how they're feeling.

Jay said he hopes something positive comes from his son's death, and hopes the school board in Brunswick, and others across the state, listen to parents and let students be together in person if they feel comfortable doing so.

If you or someone you know needs help, there are resources out there.

The Maine Crisis Hotline is 1-888-568-1112 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

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