If he wasn’t out on the field, he was on the couch watching his beloved New England Patriots on TV, his father, Jay, told CNN.
“Every time football season ended, he was on a high, win or lose,” he said.
“He focused on building up his muscles,” Smith said, adding his son went on a special diet and bought all the equipment he could, in addition to riding his bike and jogging.
“He got an old tire … tied a rope around it and cut up a backpack. All the neighbors would see him out there dragging it around the lawn. He raked the lawn almost all summer long with that tire. It was full of grass.”
But when the pandemic dragged on and the school first announced a scaled-back football season and then a switch to flag football, Smith said Spencer began to worry. He was a tackler, not a runner, after all.
Ultimately, he left the team. He stopped working out and began to take more naps. Previously an honor roll student, Spencer also struggled with remote learning.
Looking back, Spencer’s dad say there were signs how much he was missing his teammates and the barbecues and Thursday night spaghetti suppers.
But nothing could have prepared him for that December morning.
Jay Smith got a text from his wife saying Spencer must have overslept again, as he had missed homeroom. He went to his son’s bedroom. He was dead by suicide.
“I just asked, ‘Spencer, why?'” his father said.
Shutdowns coinciding with ER visits
A growing number of families are like the Smiths — losing a child to suicide during the pandemic.
Youth suicides had generally been rising before the pandemic and it is too early to link an increase in deaths directly to school closures, said Katrina Rufino, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Houston.
But she co-authored a study that found there had been a significant increase in the number of ER visits to a Houston children’s hospital related to mental health since coronavirus hit the US.
In Houston, the rise in teenagers having suicidal thoughts and harming themselves coincided with shutdowns linked to the pandemic, including school closures, Rufino and colleagues wrote in the paper published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Our analysis found that there were significantly higher rates of suicide ideation in March and July 2020 — that is when you really saw the effects here in Houston,” said Rufino about the study, which examined ER admittance to Texas Children’s Hospital for youth aged 11 to 21.
“March was when things were first hitting, things started shutting down. Here in Houston, we had the rodeo closed, schools went home after Spring Break. And then July is when we really started to see our surge here in…
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