Deaths of Despair

In a remote corner of Maine that locals call ‘The Forgotten County,’ the pandemic triggered isolation, economic struggles and a surge in suicides and overdoses. Hindered by a lack of mental health resources, communities and schools in Washington County banded together to find help for those with anxiety, depression and despair. The Maine Monitor chronicles the heartbreaking losses in a county that seeks solace and solutions to prevent more tragedies.

The crushing toll of a pandemic in Maine’s ‘forgotten county’

During a tragic winter that saw four suicides and prolonged isolation, Baileyville Police Chief Bob Fitzsimmons has served as a guardian, confidant and friend to the people in northeastern Washington County.

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Barely hanging on

Barely hanging on

Her grandson took his life. Then her daughter overdosed. “When people are crying for help, you’ve got to take them seriously,” said Rhonda McIver.

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Authors & Contributors

Fred J. Field

Fred is an award-wining photojournalist who has completed more than 15,000 newspaper and magazine assignments. He has been a staff photographer at newspapers in Maine and Massachusetts, becoming photo director at two of them. His work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, TIME FOR KIDS, National Geographic Calendar and other publications. Fred is an instructor at the University of Southern Maine where he teaches photojournalism. He has a BS in television and radio from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.


Barbara A. Walsh

Barbara is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for newspapers in Ireland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Florida. While working at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, Walsh reported on first-degree killer William Horton Jr. and Massachusetts’ flawed prison-furlough system. The series changed in-state sentencing and furlough laws and won a 1988 Pulitzer Prize. During her career at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Barbara wrote in-depth series on several social issues in Maine. Many of her stories changed laws and earned national, state and regional awards. Barbara is also the author of an adult biography/memoir, August Gale: A Father and Daughter’s Journey into the Storm, and Sammy in the Sky, a children’s book illustrated by Jamie Wyeth. She lives on a lake in Maine with her two daughters, husband and Paco, a rescue dog from Puerto Rico. When she is not writing, taking pictures or walking Paco, she can be found sitting by the lake, comforted by its blue-green waters.


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