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

(Continued from page 3)

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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Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn from friends, family and others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.

The next morning, Liberty found her daughter's body in the garage: She had hanged herself sometime after her family went to bed for the night. The family doesn't know if Plaisted left a note on her iPod, which was taken by police as part of the investigation.

"She was home, I didn't think ..." Liberty said, her voice trailing off as she was overcome with emotion. "I had all sorts of things I wanted to do with her. That morning I wanted to snuggle with her and talk about what to do (for her birthday). It was too late."

Amber Killer McCormick, Plaisted's older sister, said the family is still trying to make sense of what happened.

"We thought she was safe," McCormick said. "She was home."


Marley, who oversees the Maine Suicide Prevention Program, said Maine has been seen as a leader in developing training, outreach and support around youth suicide.

The prevention program was launched in 1998 when then-Gov. Angus King recognized the rate of youth suicide in Maine was significantly higher than the national average.

By 2010, the focus of the program had shifted from helping young people to preventing suicide among Mainers of all ages. Much of the work revolves around providing education and training programs in schools and to groups of adults.

Last week, LePage signed L.D. 609, a bipartisan bill to increase suicide awareness and prevention in public schools.

The bill requires the Department of Education to adopt rules on standards for schools for prevention education and training. The training and education will include suicide prevention awareness education for all personnel.

At least two people in each school district will be required to take more advanced suicide prevention and intervention training. LePage pledged $44,000 from his contingency fund to support implementation of the bill. Schools must train staff by the end of the 2015-16 school year.

"The devastating effect suicide has on Maine families and communities is real, and we must be willing to address the issue," LePage said in a statement after signing the bill.

After a school or community experiences a suicide, the Maine Suicide Prevention Program is able to come in to provide information, resources and guidance to help people through the shock and grief. All schools are required to have a crisis team in place to deal with those types of situations, but how prepared they are to deal specifically with a suicide "varies considerably," Marley said.

Marley said that kind of post-suicide response -- or "postvention" -- is helpful because it helps address immediate needs, but also lowers the risk of copycat or associated suicides. The risk of suicide contagion is most prevalent among youth and young adults.

"Good postvention is good suicide prevention," he said.

The program's goals now include focusing on suicide prevention among working-age adults and integrating suicide prevention into the primary health care provider setting. Marley said involving primary care doctors in suicide prevention is important because it provides an opportunity to identify people who are struggling.

"People are still reluctant, particularly adults, to reach out for anything labeled mental health help," he said.

Haas, from the national suicide prevention group, said one of the most important aspects of suicide prevention efforts -- including those in Maine -- is the focus on how to recognize depression and help people who are struggling. While experts know most people who commit suicide have a mental illness such as depression, symptoms can be harder to recognize in teens than adults.

"It often isn't the kind of sadness and teariness that most people think of with depression," Haas said. "(Depression in youth) can be angry, oppositional behavior, drinking and other kinds of acting out."

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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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