MONDAY, September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day ... I spend the day quietly thinking and wondering how my life has come to this. Eleven years after my daughter Nicole chose to end her life, on the day of her birth, at 38 years of age, I still don’t have the answers.
If you had asked me 12 or 13 years ago what I know about depression, I would have said nothing. I had no understanding of mental illness or the cause of such a deep, dark, illness. It is an illness that you cannot see. No scars, no marks, no rash, no visible crutches. Nothing that someone can recognise and say “How sad, that person has depression.”
Still, I found myself in the emergency department of the Royal Melbourne Hospital just over 12 years ago listening to a nurse who was telling me that depression will, in a few years, be bigger than heart disease. I was in total shock that my daughter had attempted to take her own life. Our heads were spinning like they do in the movies. I still wanted to say ... no, not us. We are just a normal family of two daughters, paying off a mortgage. We have no history of mental illness. We had not seen any signs that our eldest daughter was suffering from depression.
A few days later, at the police station, we learned this was not Nicole’s first attempt to end her life but her second. We left the police station on auto pilot.
Not being biased, of course, but our daughter was a highly intelligent young lady. Attractive. In a very successful career in the banking industry and seemingly reaping the rewards for much study and commitment at the workplace.
Looking back, there may have been some warning signs, but we missed them. Just little hints ... like striving for perfection. That seems to be a great indicator. A lot of people who suffer depression strive to be perfect. Their bodies have to be perfect. They have to look perfect. Everything, all their achievements in work and in what they do in life, have to be perfect.
A psychiatrist set Nicole a challenge after her second attempt: to make gingerbread biscuits and to bring in biscuits that were not ... you guessed it … perfect.
At the time I thought it was odd but now, after all the stuff I’ve read, I have some understanding.
People who suffer depression can be very popular and much loved but their opinion of themselves is rock bottom. They think they are hopeless. Useless. Not worth anyone’s time.
If you know someone who is suffering from depression, they need more than “Are you okay?” They need more reassurance that they are loved dearly and will be missed forever if they choose to leave.
Depression, suicide, is a terrible illness in our community. We are constantly finding cures for physical illnesses but there seems to be very little being done about people who have mental illness. There is still a stigma, no matter what people say.
And there is still a stigma when you have to say that you have lost a child through suicide. A terrible word, suicide. It sounds so harsh when it is said out loud.
When someone chooses to end their own life, family and friends experience a huge trauma. They, almost certainly, will never recover from the loss.
I wish we could have saved our daughter. To have a future with her. To have grandchildren. Her death has divided our family in a way that we could never, ever have imagined.
As a parent, you feel you have failed your child and that is a normal reaction. Later, if you are lucky, you may realise that it was not your fault.
Nicole told us that a psychiatrist had told her that if he kept her alive for 12 months, he would have done his job! I was appalled at the time and totally shocked. But he was right. He gave her 12 months extra. But we still lost her.
It does help to talk to others who have also lost a loved one as a result of suicide. A support group, South Gippsland Support After Suicide, meets at the Grantville Transaction Centre from 10am to noon on the fourth Thursday of the month. We have a cup of tea and a chat. The group is supported by trained counsellors from Support After Suicide, which is a part of Jesuit Social Services. They also conduct some fabulous workshops that can help in healing the trauma of losing a loved one from suicide.