Mental health expert talks about local schools coping with suicide

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - The Bangor School District is getting backlash from some city councilors about how high school students were recently told about another student's suicide.

While mental health experts we spoke with today did not want to address that case specifically, they did talk about ways to help everyone impacted in the wake of a tragedy like this.

As the clinical director of NAMI Maine, Greg Marley works with people of all ages in many different emotional situations.

NAMI's Greg Marley, said, "NAMI Maine has been active in the state of Maine since around 1980, and we work on the vision of providing education, advocacy, and support for all people whose lives are touched by mental illness which realistically is all of us."

Recently, some Bangor City Councilors were critical of the way the Bangor School District handled a student's suicide when the principal announced what happened over the intercom.

The councilors did not find it appropriate, but they tell us they hope to work with the school on matters like this in the future.

Bangor school officials sent out a letter to parents saying it was the family's wish to communicate their loss with students and support them.

"The biggest thing is you acknowledge it. You acknowledge that loss has happened."

While Marley did not talk specifically about how Bangor handled this situation, he did talk about how Hermon school officials handle crises. They faced a student suicide earlier this year.

"They have worked very carefully over a number of years to develop protocols to have a number of staff trained and even then, they reach out to see if there is something they missed."

Marley says the principal reached out to him immediately. Having Nami's support is something he feels is critical in addressing and coping with the emotional toll a tragedy like this takes on a community.

"Because that guidance is one of the things that we provide in the aftermath to think about how you're targeting vulnerable students, how are you supporting your school staff because school staff are impacted as well emotionally."

He says the grieving process is different for everyone.

"What our biggest worry about for young people is the risk of contagion. That someone's impact or feelings about a suicide loss might trigger them in a suicidal manner. And that's why we work with schools to be very planful about how you support your community in the aftermath of a loss. You think about who's most impacted and you tailor your response based on the need and your thoughtful always about how you communicate the suicide and how you memorialize the suicide. So, you need to allow the community to grieve without glorifying suicide as a way as addressing problem. It's complicated."