May 26, 2013

Ending the silence about suicide

A 16-year-old's death last month -- in a state where the threat to young people is especially alarming -- has loved ones and other Mainers calling for a greater willingness to talk about mental illness, depression and pain.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Shapleigh resident Rebecca Liberty struggles with her emotions recently as she holds a picture of her daughter Haley Plaisted, who took her own life April 8.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Haley Plaisted’s mother, Rebecca Liberty of Shapleigh, accompanied by her boyfriend, David Pillsbury, watches as balloons rise in tribute to the daughter she lost early last month. Liberty is holding a portrait of Haley that was created by the teen’s classmates at Sanford High School.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

AT A GLANCE

From 2005 to 2009, there were 901 suicides in Maine, including 93 among people younger than 24.

The average number of youth suicides in Maine from 2005 to 2009 was 19 per year.

Suicide was the second leading cause of death for Mainers ages 15-34.

More male youths died by suicide than female. Of every five suicides, four were males.

From 2005 to 2009, the leading method of youth suicide was suffocation, which accounted for 46 percent of suicide deaths. During that time period, a firearm was used in 40 percent of youth suicides.

13 percent of high school seniors have seriously considered suicide; 9 percent of high school seniors have planned their suicide; and 8 percent have attempted suicide.

Source: Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention

WARNING SIGNS

Talking about wanting to kill themselves, or saying they wish they were dead

Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as hoarding medicine or buying a gun

Talking about a specific suicide plan

Feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

Feeling trapped, desperate or needing to escape from an intolerable situation

Having the feeling of being a burden to others

Feeling humiliated

Having intense anxiety and/or panic attacks

Losing interest in things, or losing the ability to experience pleasure

Insomnia

Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn from friends, family and others

Acting irritable or agitated

Showing rage, or talking about seeking revenge for being victimized or rejected, whether or not the situations the person describes seem real

Individuals who show such behavior should be evaluated for possible suicide risk by a medical doctor or mental health professional.

Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

NEED HELP? IT'S JUST A PHONE CALL AWAY:

In Maine, immediate help is available 24 hours a day by calling (888) 568-1112.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available by calling (800) 273-8255.

If you need immediate help, call 911.

In recent months, youth suicide in Maine and across the country has become more public as families speak out about teens they say committed suicide because of bullying or after forced sexual encounters. While those external factors can contribute to feelings of depression or hopelessness, experts say the cause of suicide is often more complex than the headlines reveal and that addressing the issue can be both delicate and challenging.

"We work hard to dispel the notion that suicide happens because of bad life events," Haas said. "Depression across all age groups is really the single largest underlying cause of suicide."

Research shows that 90 percent of those who commit suicide have a mental illness or substance abuse issue, Haas said.

While the reasons people kill themselves can be complex and hard to understand, so too are the conversations about suicide that need to happen to prevent more deaths, experts say. Haas said the stigma of talking about suicide is slowly dissipating, but it's still an issue that isn't discussed enough.

"When you're talking about suicide, it opens the door to allow someone to talk about the stress they're feeling," Marley said. "If it's shameful or looked at as being negative, people hide it in the closet." 

Haley Plaisted's family and friends know they cannot undo what she did, but they hope to bring more attention to suicide prevention and bullying by talking about her. Her cousin, Craig Bartlett, organized a vigil at a Sanford park to try to start a conversation in the community about how to prevent suicide. That type of action has come as a comfort to some of Plaisted's friends. 

"I hope people realize suicide should never be an option," said Kailie Page, a friend. "Everyone has something to live for."

'SHE LIT UP THE WORLD'

Those closest to Plaisted remember her as an upbeat, fun and intensely loyal friend who was always trying to make people laugh. She grew up in rural York County, the daughter of Rebecca Liberty and Shane Plaisted.

One minute she'd be racing through the neighborhood on a dirt bike and the next she'd be dressing herself up in girly clothes. She was always trying to help other people and make them happy, but sometimes her good intentions were misunderstood, her family said.

"She just wanted to be going, going, going," Liberty said of her daughter. "She was something else." 

While she often put on a happy front, Plaisted had been struggling with depression and bullying in the past few years, her mother said. She occasionally told her family she was feeling depressed, but never really wanted to talk about it. By 15, she was taking mood stabilizers prescribed to help her deal with depression.

After a physical encounter with a girl who threatened her at Massabesic High School, Plaisted transferred to Sanford, Liberty said. She was also bullied there and withdrew from school earlier this year to get away from it, Liberty said.

A little more than a year ago, Plaisted attempted suicide. The attempt came months after her mother's husband died of cancer and Haley broke up with a serious boyfriend. She stayed briefly at Spring Harbor and moved out of state for a time to stay with her older sister. Her family thought a fresh start would be good for Plaisted, but she never wanted to be far away from her mother and friends.

Whenever her daughter was upset, Liberty said she would try to talk to her about it.

"She would clam up. She was thinking pills were going to make her feel better," Liberty said. "She never wanted people to help her."

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Additional Photos

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Family members and friends of Haley Plaisted release balloons on her 17th birthday, three days after her suicide last month, near a friend’s house in Springvale. Loved ones are still struggling to find answers for why she chose to end her life.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

  


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