I have been really impressed recently with my sister, and the initiative starting in the Australian community to raise awareness to mental illness.
Katrina talked about how the community helped out after my dad’s suicide, and the stigma associated with his death that remained long after the tragic event.
I think the saddest thing about mental illness is that people don’t seek help because they actually can’t admit it to themselves, or understand it, so what would they say?
I was 11 when my dad died, and the worst part for me in terms of the community was returning to school afterwards. It was a small school, and I remember that the kinder kids would come up to me and say things like “your dad is dead”, or “mum said your dad killed himself”, or “I was told not to talk about dads with you”.
Some older kids would ask me if my dad got sick, and I couldn’t tell them yes because I didn’t see that. He went to work everyday, he got up, he went to bed, he wasn’t in hospital, so how could I tell another child he was sick? It seemed to me he wasn’t. I was with him everyday right up until it happened and the single and only time I ever thought that something was wrong was the night before he died. I was playing scrabble with him and my grandfather and I won. If you knew my dad you would know he wouldn’t just let me win, but his mind just didn’t work. He couldn’t think of a single word to put onto the board, and I felt a sort of sick feeling that I had never felt before.
For years I would just say “my dad died”, and like my sister, I felt awkward saying it was suicide, not because I hadn’t come to terms with it, but more because of the reaction of others. They would either pity me, or judge me, or laugh because they thought I was joking.
At some point I stopped caring, because I realised that their reaction was something they needed to deal with, and if I made them feel uncomfortable that was not my fault or intention.
But if I couldn’t see it, and I couldn’t explain it, and my father didn’t own it, how then do we solve a problem that you can’t see?
You don’t have a tumour, or a broken bone. You don’t seem sick. So what then is wrong with you?
After not dealing with my dad’s death very well I was 14 when I started not being ok myself, and I remember standing in the kitchen one day, and because I didn’t know what was wrong, I just said to mum “I don’t feel right”. I didn’t know what else to say ,because I looked fine, and I was doing well at school, so technically I was fine.
All I can say is that I still know my father as a very smart, quick witted, strong man, who was loyal to his family, and whose funeral inspired a community, and a greater community, and pretty much anyone he had ever met to arrive at our farm to honour his memory.
So for that man to take his own life, there must have been something deeply wrong, and until society can accept that, and be understanding and compassionate about those affected, people like him will just stay silent.