By John Subritzky
Today as I write this (mid-October), it is a very significant day for one mum. The sun is setting on what would have been this mum’s son’s birthday.
Kerrie and I are on a long-planned cruise. A few days ago we shared a dinner table with two sisters from Australia. In the following days we kept bumping into each other. It was only after we talked about our son attending the funeral of a school friend in Nelson who died tragically, that their story emerged.
One of the sisters, let’s call her “Jane”, had some years ago discovered that her son was in danger of taking his own life. The only way that she could access professional help in the state system in Australia was to prove that he was serious about ending his life. What a crazy system! Anyway, she cracked the pin code on his phone and photographed a conversation that he was having with his friend. Long story short, she got an intervention, her son came through it and years later he is doing just fine.
The second sister, “April”, was not so fortunate. Her son took his life totally without warning. That was four years ago, days before his birthday. His birthday is today. April relied on the support of her sister Jane to help get her through the crisis. They are both on the cruise with us today. I can’t imagine what is going on for them.
Of the two stories, one person had the opportunity to intervene. Jane picked up on something and acted. Everyone needs to have their antenna up and be aware of what people close to them are going through. Sadly, many people do not give any hint of what is going on inside, but for those that do, let’s be there for them!
As parents away on the other side of the planet from our son, we were concerned about how he was processing the loss of a very close friend. Although awkward, knowing to ask the vital question of whether he was considering ending his own life and being reassured that he was not, was so comforting to us when we were so far away from him.
Michael Hempseed from Christchurch, says in his book Being a True Hero – understanding and preventing suicide in your community, “I run suicide prevention seminars all over New Zealand. Most people who attend say they expected the seminars to be like pulling teeth, yet when they actually came to it, they went away feeling hopeful. Every single person on the planet will almost certainly encounter someone who is suicidal in their lifetime; how you respond to that person may be the difference between life and death.
I’ve met so many different people and the topic of mental illness is almost universal. I have met many people, the world over, who say “I want to do something to help those with mental illness. If I ever encounter someone who is suicidal, I would want to be able to help, but I don’t know what to do or where to start.” This book will empower you to recognise the signs of mental illness, distress and suicidal behaviour, offer support where you can and to refer someone to professional help when necessary.”