Growing up I always thought my Grandfather had died from a sickness.
One day I learned that he had in fact taken his own life before I was born. It's true that he was sick, but there was a shame over the family with what he had done, and the matter was never discussed.
As I grew older, I learned that the topic was not open for discussion, and never would be.
One day when I was around 20 an uncle of mine hanged himself. I cried and cried, and wished I had been able to be there to tell him he was important before he chose to end his life. I wasn't close with many of my aunts or uncles, but he had spent some quality time with me several years before when I really lacked an older male in my life, so I saw him as quite special. His suicide affected me quite a bit.
Since that time I have had other family members attempt suicide and suffer from depression, but it's always been brushed under the carpet and forgotten about as quickly as possible.
I often wondered why there was such a stigma associated with depression in general. When someone had the flu, a broken bone or an allergy it was shouted from the roof tops. Empathy would flood in like a dam had broken, and there was no shame on the bearer of the illness or injury.
But then I started to hear others talk about those with "depression" as if they were fakers and attention seekers. I heard the conversations and remarks about "sooks" and how suicide was "selfish" and self harm was just attention seeking. Even those who acknowledged depression was a real thing still spoke as if those who had it were inferior in some way.
Being around a religion where "killing yourself is murder and murderers go to hell" didn't help much either.
So whenever I felt depressed for no reason or had a thought of ending it all I sure as heck wasn't going to tell anyone.
And as I look around today I see the same struggle in our culture. We haven't yet arrived at a place where people struggling with issues like suicide can feel safe to discuss the matter with the loved ones in their lives without judgement.
Accidental deaths and murder are widely reported in the media, but if a death is suspected as suicide it is more often than not kept silent. I understand this is out of respect to the grieving families, but the problem this has created is that the only time we are told there's a problem with suicide in our community is when we see a statistic from the ABS presented to us every few years, or perhaps a survey gets published by a community organisation.
But surveys and ABS data does not make for strong public campaigning fuel. The reason we make a loud noise about other matters like deaths in custody, crime rates, child abuse etc is because there are real stories of real people we emotionally connect with.
Real stories from real people is what elicits empathy from us and prompts us to demand change from legislators, start community groups, verbalise our opinions and reach out and support those around us who need us.
Geraldton has been in national headlines over the last week following the suicide of an 11 year old boy. And there have been at least two other suicides we have been made aware of but do not have the blessing of family members to share details of.
Reading the articles published by The Australian and others regarding the death of the 11 year old, it seems many want to place all the blame squarely on the government.
It can be argued that more could be done in terms of resources and energy being directed to this problem, but I believe the guilt for the status quo is something our entire community needs to shoulder. We can all take steps to change our attitudes and remove the stigma attached with depression and mental illness.
I don't mean to diminish the guilt on the part of any entity that had the power to assist and didn't, but often it's easier to blame the proverbial "government" than admit we are the ones who need to take action.
Mick and Rose Weber and Sarah Whitmarsh are some locals who are working to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness.
They have a Facebook Group you can check out and join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/CanningStockRoutWalkingTrekforSuicideAwareness/
This is from the "ABOUT" section of the group:
My husband Mick and I (Rose) started our walk of the Canning Stock Route on the 1st July 2014. Unfortunately a few weeks in Mick became very unwell with a collapsed ureter and had to be flown out for emergency surgery (jj stent) at RPH.
Just like life there are always bumps in the road, the aim is to never give up, you have to adapt and move on but don't give up.
This is where Sarah Whitmarsh comes in. Sarah was originally one of our sponsors, she has generously volunteered to do the whole trek with me. Sarah has also lost her brother to suicide, with Sarah's past and mine we are united in creating awareness and stopping the stigma associated with all mental illness and suicide prevention.
Mick will still be coming but is not allowed to walk it so he will be in a support vehicle and our son Saxon in a second support vehicle.
Due to Mick now needing further surgery to try and save his kidney, we have decided to leave the trek till May 2015 due to it getting too hot after Mick's recuperation in the next few weeks.
Stay tuned for updates and fundraising between now and when we leave.
The aim is to create suicide awareness, we want to show people no matter how hard the road is ahead you never give up, just keep going one foot in front of the other. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and our motto is Dream, Believe, Achieve. Every life is so worth it, don't give up ever!
Here's a link to a heartfelt comic by Erika Moen. It gives the reader more empathy towards those experiencing suicidal thoughts, and hope to anyone who may also be suffering. https://medium.com/the-nib/i-want-to-live-6a40fbc76ef4
If you want to speak up on the issues of suicide, depression or mental illness head to the Letters to the Editor section of our website. Click here.
If you need help or someone to talk to, the good news is there's lots available. Men might like to check out The Shed Online (a service from Beyond Blue- click image below) or visit Beyond Blue to see the services they have available. http://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/