WARNING: this post contains material that some may find upsetting and confronting, if you feel depressed and unsafe, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14
Every year twice as many people die from suicide as the road toll, tens of thousands more attempt to take their own life. The leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44 years is suicide. While many organisations, such as the Black Dog Institute, Sane Australia, BeyondBlue, Headspace, R U OK?, Suicide Prevention Australia along with many health professionals are working hard to reduce these deaths. Despite this, the very sad and tragic reality is the number of deaths has remained at over 2,500 each year for a decade, with 2012 having the highest number of deaths recorded.
With the rates of depression increasing every year the number of deaths from suicide and the attempts to take one’s life are expected to increase further. Like the deaths from car accidents each year the deaths by suicide are preventable. Yet funding, resources and personal for mental health has not been adequately provided by the government to make a difference. It has been determined for the needs of mentally Australia will require an additional 9,000 professionals by 2020.
The sad reality is that these tragic deaths, nearly 3,000 each year, are the silent deaths that most in Australia will never hear about. Rarely reported in the news or heard about in other forms of communications these people die because the system that should have helped them failed. On top of this, both suicide and mental illness exists in a world where stigma prevents action, discussion and prevention. The very things that would save lives!
I could have been one of those fatalities, a statistic, and a silent death. I tried five times to attempt suicide, to try and die, to end it all so I would not be here and to just be gone!
My story of having severe depression, suicidal thoughts and self-harm behaviours started as a teenager. I seemed to struggle through these years, neither healthy nor happy and not without harm. I lived in a world of darkness, sadness and loneliness. Despite warning signs that I now recognise as a mental illness, my struggle and my deep unhappiness went without help or support.
It was not until 2004 that my depression got significantly worse and my life literally went spiralling out of control. Thinking about wanting to hurt myself and needing to die was in my mind constantly, they were with me endlessly. The trigger was my then husband and father of my son, then three, sleeping with a prostitute. It wasn’t the first time he had cheated on me during our ten years together. It was just the first time when I exploded, and could not handle it anymore and kicked him out. What transpired for me was a long journey of being very sick, nearly dying, punishing myself and of not seeing anything but a dark, sad world that I no longer wanted to live in. With little to no family support I was left treading water in the middle of an ocean with no lifeguard in sight.
My first attempt at suicide happened in 2009. I was home alone and had been cutting myself a lot in the weeks leading up to it. When people talk about asking for help when you have suicidal thoughts, it is not as easy as just talking up. Firstly, you have to overcome the shame of admitting that you want to end your life. Secondly, you need a person who upon hearing this will support you, continue to talk to you and who will assist you in seeking help. I was never one to talk about my problems and this meant even if I had someone to tell I was not okay I would not have told them. Alternatively you are reliant on someone who will recognise that you are not okay and who will ask R U OK?, and they will act to get you help.
I had nobody to tell, I felt ashamed and to be honest, at the time I did not recognise what was happening to me. I had nobody who noticed the position I was in, how unhealthy I was, that I was a risk to myself and that I needed help. Part of my mental illness is that at its most significant results in psychosis. They way that I can explain this is that I felt like someone or something else was in control of me, I could not see or feel reality, I was consumed by suicidal thoughts and really did not understand what I was doing to myself.
It would be inappropriate to talk about how I tried to take my own life. I woke in the intensive care unit of hospital attached to machines and not remembering what had happened. I soon found out that it was two and half weeks later and I had been unconscious and in psychosis for that period of time. I remained in hospital for another two weeks.
What this experience highlights to me years later and after recovery, is how much the hospital and the health system let me down after my attempt at suicide. During a month of being in hospital I was not seen by a psychiatrist or any other mental health professional. I was given a certificate to say I had been sick and the date I would be returning to work and was discharged. I resumed self harm and months later tried again, this time my stay in hospital was not as long and I was not as sick but the same discharge process transpired and I returned to home, work and life, treated like I was not sick at all.
What makes me angry is this has not just happened to me, this has happened to many people with a mental illness and sadly for some they have lost their lives.
Nobody thinks that this is how their life would turn out. Nobody thinks that you could suffer a mental illness that would literally cripple your life and nearly end it. Nobody would think that it is so incredibly hard to receive help for a mental illness when you most need it. For 3, 000 people in Australia each year these are the circumstances that contribute to their silent deaths.
In the last couple of weeks Sane Australia and Suicide Prevention Australia have been publishing a series of articles from survivors of suicide and their roads to recovery. For these Australians they have become a voice and an ambassador to increase awareness of mental illness and suicide, reduce the barriers contributing to stigma. More importantly, these survivors speak out with the hope they will reach those who are mentally ill and help them to understand that they are not alone and that there is hope to get better.
This is why now that I am in recovery I have chosen to write about my experience living with a mental illness and how this illness affected my life for so many years. I hope that through my story I can help to break down the barriers of stigma, increase the awareness of mental illness and suicide and hope that just one person reads my story and has hope that they can get better. Too many of us suffer in silence, too many of us go without help, support and adequate treatment. It is with my voice that I will stand up for those who cannot speak up to get the help that they need, I will be the voice who highlights the gaps in our mental health system, I will be the voice that will make a difference. If I can make a difference in just one life, then I have achieved what I want to with my writing.
As a community we need to fight for more funding, professionals, support, resources, services to help the mentally ill receive help. As a community we need to make sure that the government knows that gaps in our health system are unacceptable. As a community we need to say that silent deaths are not acceptable. Like the road toll was, suicide prevention must be a priority!