A high school sophomore and football player took his own life Friday in Maine, and his dad is now warning other parents to keep an eye on their kids' mental health during the pandemic. Jay Smith tells WMTW that his 16-year-old son, Spencer, whom he describes as a "fun-loving kid" with a "very kind heart," had grown increasingly withdrawn over the past few months as school activities were nixed and the sport he loved was revamped due to the virus. Although he'd worked out over the summer to prep for fall football, the sport was changed to flag football, and Spencer gave up on it. "Instead of working out, he took naps," Smith says, adding that although Spencer had been attending school in person one day a week, he eventually went to the all-remote plan, because it was hard not being able to interact normally there with his classmates. Smith tells NBC News that Spencer left a note talking about his struggles with isolation and how he felt "locked in this house."
"We never guessed it was this bad," Smith says. Greg Marley, a rep for the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness tells the Press Herald that while people in general are struggling with the pandemic, kids' brains aren't yet able to fully process disruptive events like this as well as adults can. Marley notes the pandemic may be hitting extroverted kids and those who participate in sports and other group extracurriculars extra hard. "Our children ... are under incredible stress," the Midcoast Youth Center says in a letter to the Brunswick community. Smith, who also has a young daughter, is now imploring other parents to check in with their kids on how they're doing. "There's help out there," he says, per NBC. "This pandemic can't last forever. Things will get better." A GoFundMe has been set up to help the Smith family pay for funeral and burial expenses. (Read more suicide stories.)