THORNDIKE, Maine — Cheryl and Vic Morin of Abbot had a special message Thursday night for parents, community members and others who attended a public forum on suicide prevention at Mount View High School in Thorndike.
The rural RSU 3 school district was rocked in late March when 13-year-old Kitty McGuire, a sixth grade student, killed herself at her home. The Waldo County Sheriff’s Office is actively investigating the suicide and rumors that bullying may have played a role. The Morins, who lost her 19-year-old son, William Jody Day, in 2005, know about the pain that suicide brings to a community.
“Sometimes I sit and cry at my computer,” Cheryl Morin said about how she feels when she hears that another young person or any person has killed himself. “I feel for this person who has died. I feel for their families. I want to go to their houses and reach out — I know how bad this is feeling. But if I can live, you can live too.”
The message was timely — and augmented by practical, hard-earned advice from the Morins and from Raini Perry of Palermo, whose 16-year-old daughter Hayley Bowers killed herself in 2011. After speaking in the introductory forum panel, the three took more time in a smaller group of people in a Mount View High School classroom that included one of Kitty’s aunts, her eyes red from crying.
“How can you tell the difference between a child contemplating suicide and a normal, sullen teenager staying in their room?” one mother asked the trio.
“We all have our moments of sadness. We all have our moments of anxiety,” Perry said. “But they’re fleeting.”
“My first suggestion to everybody is to get trained. To learn the warning signs,” Cheryl Morin responded. “I honestly had no idea there were warning signs to look for.”
She handed out cards that listed some of those signs, which include talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself; looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun; talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live; talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain; talking about being a burden to others; increasing the use of alcohol or drugs; acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly; sleeping too little or too much; and withdrawing or feeling isolated.
Vic Morin told the room of people that old myths about suicide can be dangerous.
“One would be — don’t talk about it. Which is exactly wrong. You’ve got to talk about it,” he said.
His wife added that far more people kill themselves every year in the United States than are killed in homicides. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2007 suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the country, accounting for 34,598 deaths. The overall suicide rate then was 11.3 deaths per 100,000 people. The homicide rate in 2011 was less than half that, with 4.8 people killed per 100,000, according to the Uniform Crime Reports compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“It’s part of reality today,” Cheryl Morin said. “It’s not taboo with us [to talk about it.]”
The Morins and Perry both run foundations geared toward suicide education and prevention. The JD Foundation offers free workshops covering warning signs, risk factors, myths and more, the Morins said. The Hayley’s Hope Foundation aims to create awareness of the issue of teen suicide.
About 50 people attended the forum at the school complex, with an opening session in the Clifford Performing Arts Center. Visual media was blocked from attending that part of the event by an officer from the Waldo County Sheriff’s Department. When asked why, the media representatives were told to talk with RSU 3 Superintendent Heather Perry.
In a phone conversation Thursday evening, Perry told BDN Visuals Editor Brian Feulner that the forum site, the Mount View School complex, was not a public building, it was a school.
A flier for the event said “everyone is welcome to attend.”
Perry said during the forum that school officials wanted to get this information out to community members, especially because April vacation week is coming up and grieving students who have had easy access to counselors during school hours might have more time on their own.
“We wanted to support families and children on the issue of suicide prevention,” she said.
The corridors of the Mount View school complex were dotted with student-made signs that said things like “No Bullying,” “Be Kind,” and “Bullying Stops Here.”
Perry said that students who want to turn their sadness into action have created plans including mentoring younger pupils on the topic of bullying and, in the middle school, the building of a “wall of kindness.” Participating middle school students can take a pledge to do their best not to bully, and stand up to bullying behavior.
“It came out of counseling, asking kids what they needed — and they want to do something,” Perry said.
To reach a suicide prevention hotline, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255, or visit the website www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
To reach the JD Foundation in Abbot, please contact 876-2295 or visit the website thejdfoundation.org.
To reach the Hayley’s Hope Foundation in Palermo, please visit the website www.hayleyshopefoundation.org.