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
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


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


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


Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn from friends, family and others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


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.

Instead, Liberty said, Plaisted seemed focused on finding love and creating a family of her own.

"Haley was looking for love. When she loved somebody, she didn't love them just a tiny bit, she loved them tons and tons and tons," she said. "She didn't know so many people loved her so much. It was like she couldn't believe someone did love her that much."

Plaisted's friends would sometimes catch a glimpse of her stress and anxiety, but more often she was singing goofy songs or looking for an adventure.

"She lit up the world in a way nobody else could," said family friend Jayde Burgess. "But she had a lot of pain most people couldn't deal with for that long."

Page, the 14-year-old friend from Sanford, grew up with Plaisted but said her friend never opened up about depression.

"I knew she had a lot of pain, but she never came to me. I couldn't help her," Page said moments after releasing balloons into the air on the day Plaisted would have turned 17. "She really was a lost person."

At the balloon release, Liberty clutched a portrait of her daughter as she watched butterfly balloons disappear into the sky. After, family and friends huddled together to talk about Plaisted, their stories punctuated by both laughter and tears.

Alan Cyr, whom Plaisted considered to be her stepfather even though he and her mother divorced years ago, said she seemed to transform from a happy kid to a troubled teenager, but it was tough to tell if she was just rebelling or if something deeper was going on. She started keeping more of a distance from her family -- especially her parents -- and would take off from home to avoid fighting with her mom about drinking and swearing. 

Cyr said Plaisted seemed to be searching for acceptance from everyone around her.

"It was like taking a square peg and putting her in a round hole. She wasn't going to fit into the round hole the world wanted her to," he said. "She was trying really hard to reach this level of acceptance I didn't think she was going to get from people."

In the weeks before she died, Plaisted was couch-surfing at friends' houses. Her mother received only the occasional text from Plaisted and had no idea if her daughter was taking her medication properly or at all.

"She was bouncing around. She was so confused," Liberty said. "She wanted to be an adult and make her own life."

In those weeks, Plaisted posted frequently on her Facebook page, sometimes about drinking and drug use. Her posts show a range of emotion, from excitement about her birthday and hanging out with friends to sadness about the breakup of her relationship. Her friends say photos Plaisted posted of herself in a bikini prompted taunts from peers who often picked on her.

"Sooner or later I'm not gonna have a heart cause it's been hurt so much it won't be able to be put together," Plaisted wrote in one Facebook post. 

After weeks away, Plaisted finally came home on a Sunday night. 

Her older sister was in town and Plaisted wanted to see her young niece. Plaisted's family knew she had just broken up with the boyfriend she thought she would marry. But they didn't suspect she was considering suicide.

Liberty said her daughter's face was puffy from crying, but she brightened up when they talked about her upcoming birthday and she made plans to hang out with a friend. When her mother went to bed that night, Plaisted was exchanging text messages with her ex-boyfriend, Liberty said. 

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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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