A father in Brunswick, Maine is sharing how the mental health effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic led to his 16-year-old son's death by suicide.
Jay Smith said that that he noticed warning signs that his son Spencer Smith, a sophomore at Brunswick High School, was struggling with isolation prior to his death on Dec. 4.
"We knew he was upset because he was no longer able to participate in his school activities, football," Jay told NBC News. "We never guessed it was this bad. Looking back now we could see little things that we should have caught but we didn't realize his mental health was deteriorating as bad."
According to Jay, Spencer spent the whole summer working out to prepare for the traditional fall football season. But his attitude changed after the team switched to playing flag football due to COVID.
“As soon as he found out it wasn’t going to be a regular football season, looking back, we noticed he stopped working out," Jay told local news station WMTW. "He stopped riding his bike as much to the point he didn’t even work out anymore. Instead of working out, he took naps."
Jay said that Spencer's grades also began to slip as he struggled with remote learning.
While the teen was attending in-person classes one day a week, he eventually asked his parents if he could stay home permanently after finding it too difficult to connect with his peers. “He was a fun-loving kid, but we didn’t see the pain that apparently he was in,” Jay told WMTW.
Before his suicide, Spencer wrote a note explaining how isolation had made life difficult. According to Jay, the teen said in the note that he felt like he was "locked in this house."
In the aftermath of his son's tragic death, Jay, who also has a young daughter, wants to encourage other teens to seek help if they are struggling with their mental health amid the pandemic.
"There's help out there," he told NBC News. "This pandemic can't last forever and if they're feeling alone and depressed, they need to reach out for help. Things will get better. I ask parents to talk to their children."
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In a statement posted after Spencer's death, the Brunswick School Department said that counseling and support services will be made available to staff and students.
"I want to take this opportunity to remind our community that suicide, when it does occur, is a very complicated act," said Superintendent Phil Potenziano. "No one single thing causes it. But in many cases, a mental health condition is part of it, and these conditions are treatable."
"It’s really important if you or your child is not feeling well in any way to reach out for help," Potenziano added. "Suicide should not be an option."
A GoFundMe page was created in the wake of Spencer's death to support the Smith family. As of Wednesday afternoon, the page has raised over $12,600.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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