A father in Maine wants to shed some light on how the coronavirus pandemic may be affecting the mental health of young people after his 16-year-old son died by suicide on Friday.
Jay Smith, of Brunswick, said his son, Spencer Smith, was having trouble coping with how much life has changed over the past several months.
"We knew he was upset because he was no longer able to participate in his school activities, football. We never guessed it was this bad," Smith said in a phone interview on Tuesday. "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."
Smith described his son, a sophomore at Brunswick High School, as a "great kid" who enjoyed going to school and hanging out with his friends.
He said Spencer had spent all summer working out and getting in shape so he could play on the school's football team as a lineman. When the sport was changed to flag football because of the pandemic, Spencer "gave up on it," his father said.
"It wasn't the same type of practice because they had to social distance. He didn't like that part of it," Smith explained.
Spencer eventually stopped working out and his grades began to suffer as he grappled with remote learning. At one point, the teenager was attending in-person school one day a week, but asked his parents if he could stay home because he found it too difficult not being able to interact with his peers.
Smith said his son left a note behind detailing his struggles with being isolated, writing that he felt like he was "locked in this house."
Smith, who has a younger daughter at home, said he wanted to share his son's story to encourage other teenagers to seek help if they are having a difficult time coping with the pandemic.
"There's help out there," he said. "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."
The Brunswick School Department said that counseling and bereavement support services will be available for students and staff.
"It’s really important if you or your child is not feeling well in any way to reach out for help," said Phillip Potenziano, the superintendent of schools, in an online statement Friday. "Suicide should not be an option."
If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.