CHESHIRE – School and youth services leaders provided counseling for students last week in the wake of a 6th-grader’s death over the Christmas break.
Anjelita Estrada, 11, attended Doolittle Elementary School.
The state Chief Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death a suicide. Cheshire police are investigating but said they don’t suspect foul play.
Anthony Estrada, Anjelita’s father, said she moved to Connecticut with her mother and stepfather six months ago and found it difficult to fit in. He encouraged her to be strong but said it was difficult getting her to open up. Her mother and stepfather could not be reached for comment.
Anjelita Estrada would have turned 12 on Wednesday.
Her father, who lives in New Mexico, hopes to help prevent other children from falling into a similar situation.
“It’s not anything that any family wants to deal with. No parent should have to go through this,” he said.
School Superintendent Jeff Solan and Doolittle School Principal Russell Hinckley sent letters to parents outlining plans to address the loss last week.
Hinckley said teachers in grades one to three would address the death if it came up. Teachers in grades four to six would “proactively address” the issue with their classes.
“It is best for students to hear such information from trusted adults and not on the bus, playground, through social media, etc.,” Hinckley wrote. “Teachers will simply share with students that she passed away suddenly and we are here to support them as they grieve.”
Solan wrote that counselors will be available at every school in the district. Parents can also contact the Youth Services department for resources on coping with grief.
Kathryn Fabiani, Board of Education chairwoman, said students could get help both through district counselors and the town’s Youth Services department.
“These are young kids,” Fabiani said. “We’re making sure all those resources are being made available.”
Girls and young women ages 10 to 19 are increasingly at risk for suicide, according to Kimberly Nelson, a Wheeler Clinic senior vice president who’s taught on suicide prevention. The rates of suicide for that demographic have doubled in the past 15 years.
Nelson said that suicides are most common in the adolescent years but that pre-teen suicide has also been on the rise. Traumatic loss, interpersonal conflict, a history of behavioral health problems or mood disorders, drastic change in behavior and recent exposure to suicide can be warning signs or risks. Nelson said a child might also talk about suicide before attempting it.
“The most important thing to do is always listen,” she said. “Take the youth very seriously. If someone talks about suicide, take it very seriously.”
Nelson hopes that suicide along with depression and other mental health problems will be talked about more openly.
“The more we don’t talk about it, the more we continue to put that stigma” on mental illness, she said. “We’ve got to get it out there.”
Nelson said the state was fortunate to have a mobile psychiatric response unit. With a call to 211, a resident can request mental health experts to arrive and evaluate a child.
Those seeking services for themselves or someone else can also call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Those who are worried a loved one is considering suicide can also get advice at www.preventsuicidect.org.
Locally, services are available at Rushford Center, the Community Health Center and MidState Medical Center for emergencies.
Members of the girl’s family started a GoFundMe campaign to bring her body to New Mexico. More than $11,000 had been raised as of Tuesday.