Becky Hartley, left, lost her son Evan Millett to suicide in 2016. That tragedy spurred Jamie Dorr, at right, to found the Midcoast Community Alliance not long after. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BATH — Newly released survey results show an increase since 2017 in high school students who have experienced long periods of unhappiness and have seriously considered suicide.

The 2019 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey states that Maine high school students who felt sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year rose from 26.9% in 2017 to 32.1%, about 17,000 students, in 2019. Students who in the past year seriously contemplated suicide rose from 14.7% to 16.4%, to reach nearly 8,900.

In Sagadahoc County last year, 35.7% (503) of students reported feeling hopeless or sad (46.8% female and 24.5% male), and 19.3% (272) said they had seriously considered attempting suicide (25.2% female, 13.2% male).

Maine high school student suicide attempts in the past year rose from 7.4% to 8.9%. Sagadahoc County’s rate is 9.6%, which showed no change from 2017, according to Melissa Fochesato, director of Community Health Promotion with the Mid Coast Center for Community Health & Wellness.

Those statistics may be just numbers to some, but they reflect an all-too-harsh reality for people like Becky Hartley. Hartley’s son, Evan Millett of Bath, died by suicide in 2016, when he was 19 years old.

Hartley said her son didn’t exhibit depression and tended to smile; as a result, “he shocked a lot of people” when he died in June 2016, she said.

Millett was known to the community through his work as a lifeguard at the Bath Area Family YMCA.

Hartley’s son left no note, and she can only speculate as to what caused him to end his life.

“I think he had put a lot of pressure on himself,” she said. “Most of his friends had gone off to college; he didn’t know what he wanted to do. He was working, like, three jobs.”

She often told him it was OK, that he was young and had plenty of time to figure out his path. Millett died almost a year to the day after graduating high school.

“One of the things that has come out of losing Millett … is that in our community, if you graduate from high school (and) you’re not going off to college, what is there?” said Jamie Dorr, of Midcoast Community Alliance. “There’s nothing. There’s no sort of program (or) resource, and we hope to change that.”

Evan Millett’s mother carries this photo of him.

Having those conversations, and spreading awareness, is critical in curbing suicide, both Dorr and Hartley said. Midcoast Community Alliance was founded in the wake of Millett’s death to help troubled youth and adults stem the tide of teen suicide. The nonprofit organization includes health, school and law enforcement entities. Although some felt the alliance’s mission and vision statement should not include the word “suicide,” others thought it was crucial. During the Banners Over Bath event last spring, the alliance offered the suicide prevention hotline and text lines, “and I thought’ we’ve come a really long way,'” Dorr said.

Last month, Dorr was named the 2019 Patriots Difference Maker of the Year, and was presented a $20,000 check to benefit Midcoast Community Alliance. Dorr, who is also president of the Friends of the Bath Youth Meetinghouse & Skatepark, plans to put the money toward a $40,000 goal to hire an additional skatepark staff person to be “an awesome role model.”

Spreading awareness about suicide, and having conversations about it, is critical in curbing it, both Dorr and Hartley said.

“I have said to people, ‘we need to talk about it,'” and get past a stigma that has waned but still prevails, Hartley explained. “For all the parents who don’t think it will ever happen to them, I was there four years ago.”

“You just never know,” Hartley said. When she hears of other suicides, “it breaks my heart, that there’s another parent, that there’s another child, that thought that there were no other options.”

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