BRUNSWICK, Maine — In Maine, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34. Experts say adolescents are struggling more than ever as we come off two solid years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One family in Brunswick is still trying to find their way out of the crushing heartbreak of losing their son. He took his life a year and a half ago, but for his parents, the wound never seems to heal.
Spencer Smith, 16, died by suicide in December 2020. His dad, Jay, said he went into Spencer’s bedroom to wake him up because his school said he hadn’t logged onto the classroom Zoom yet.
That moment changed Jay and his wife forever.
"I wish he knew the pain he was going to cause us by that decision he made," Jay Smith said through tears.
Spencer Smith was a student at Brunswick High School when he took his life He wrote a note to his family explaining his decision. Writing that the pandemic made him feel isolated, that he missed his football team, and he didn’t want to work a dead-end job for the rest of his life.
"Unfortunately when they shut down America, they shut down our kids," Jay said of the pandemic's effect.
Smith spoke out right after his son's death in 2020 and again last month.
He told NEWS CENTER Maine that the pain never leaves.
"We find ourselves never happy. Even when we’re happy, we’re still sad," Smith said.
Along with the sadness came a realization for Jay, which is that there is so much more to life, and he wants kids and teenagers to know that.
"Everything that you think is important as a teenager in high school, you realize once you’re out of high school that’s not important," Smith explained.
Just down the road from the Smith’s home in Brunswick, is the Midcoast Youth Center and Skatepark.
The skatepark has been around for a while, but the youth center is just about eight years old.
"It was really a call to action to me that we need to be doing more," Jamie Dorr, director at the Midcoast Youth Center and Skatepark, said.
Dorr has been supporting young people and their mental health for years and said she sees mental health challenges pop up all the time. She added that many kids are dealing with some level of anxiety or depression, which is why she and her team do their best to remind the kids they are safe at the youth center and can talk to and trust the adults there.
Dorr said the kids take them up on that often.
"The first thing we do, practical-wise, is we offer them a glass of water, and we’re in a quiet place, and we usually have two staff members who are there," she said explaining the process.
From there, she and her staff address the situation. They call the crisis hotline if necessary or bring the person in need to the emergency department if they need that care. Other times they bring in parents and have really hard but important conversations.
Her goal, she said, is "helping young people navigate really challenging things that we face in the world today."
Smith applauds Dorr for all the work she does for kids in the community, and he has something to say to any young person thinking about suicide.
"[It's] definitely not worth it. You’re thinking about yourself right now, stop. Think about your family," he said.
He added that you may not feel it, but there are people who love you, and you don’t even know how much they need you.
He wonders if his son would have realized whether it could have changed everything.
If only he knew, "how much we needed him and how much the whole family needed him," Smith said through his tears.
Smith said his wife has kept in touch with all of Spencer’s friends, and they’ve also been in touch with the Brunswick School Department regarding support for kids.
He said his goal in life is to save other families from experiencing suicide.
Let's talk about it
Maine Crisis Hotline: 1-888-568-1112
Maine teen text support
This peer support text line is for Maine youth 13 to 24 years old and is staffed by individuals 18 to 24. Talk about your feelings and get support from another young person. Daily from noon to 10 p.m. EST at 207-515-8398