Dave starts his walk early, past the street where he taught his boy to ride a bike, where the kid used to kick rocks on his way to school.
The cold winter morning brings back memories good and bad as he pulls his coat tighter around himself. He walks higher and higher to the top of the headland and looks through the gap in the bush. He sees the ocean, and he sees his son, Rory.
Rory was 19 when he took his life. Four years on, Dave still grieves for Rory, as do his wife Sarah and daughter Pia.
Rory didn’t die in a car crash, or a motorcycle accident or overdose on drugs. He was lost to the crippling disease of depression. Rory’s symptoms were to some extent evident to his family, but not to his friends. We didn’t see that side, lurking. His parents describe his laugh and clownish characteristics as a defence against being shy or embarrassed. They also disguised those feelings from his unsuspecting friends.
Rory’s family provided him with a good education and a good life. He lived in a great location on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, 100 metres from the beach and less than a kilometre from his high school.
“He probably spent more than half his life surfing in the rip bowl,” his dad says. He is content with that memory.
An Australian Bureau of Statistics report (Causes of Death, 2012) shows Australian males are three times more likely to commit suicide than woman though the sexes are equally vulnerable under 19. Indigenous people are four times more likely to die by suicide than non-indigenous people. In all, more Australians – 2,361 of them – die by suicide every year than in car crashes and of skin cancer.
Rory’s family feel no relief that they are not alone. It makes them sick to feel that thousands of people share the same grief of losing a son, a daughter, a mother or a father.
Such grief leaves people wondering if they could have done something to help prevent it… Maybe have a talk? Have a laugh? Something…
But depression is a disease and there is treatment. Depression’s chemotherapy is psychotherapy and like any therapy, it doesn’t come cheap.
Some people can afford private help. For those who can’t, there is Lifeline.
Lifeline, a free service, is open 24/7 for callers. The hotline now receives calls from at least 1,250 people in Australia each day. About 50 of those callers is deemed as being at high risk of suicide.
Yet after more than 40 years serving the public, Lifeline still struggles with funding. Government contributes 20 per cent to the cause, leaving Lifeline to fill the gap with fundraisers such as Stress Down Day, a yearly fundraiser in July, and donations from the Salvation Army and other charities.
A Lifeline volunteer, Bill*, who earned a degree in sociology from Sydney University in 2010, is now six weeks into Lifeline’s four-month counselling course. He has already learned the full effect of how crippling the diseases of depression and anxiety are to their victims.
“Before the course I really thought that suicide was caused only by depression,” he told The Newsroom. “But it is caused by a whole range of things. It could be from gambling debts, alcohol and drug abuse, schizophrenia, loss of a family member or a close friend. It really is just so heavy to learn!”
He knows he will have a better understanding of suicide after the course and looks forward to giving something back to his community, perhaps helping to save someone’s life.
“Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australia for men under 44 and women under 34. I really hate it. This is something people need to stop, it is so horrible. The worst thing is it is getting worse every year.”
Lifeline has to close some call centres recently to cut expenditure, yet it still has to ensure that every call is answered.
“[Every] answered call could save someone’s life,” Bill said.
“I’m not sure where Lifeline will be in 10 years. I mean, suicide is a huge issue in Australia and I think awareness is only just now starting to develop, so with that you would hope that funding from the government or other sources will start supporting Lifeline but… who knows?’’ – Callum Birch
If you need help, call Lifeline’s hotline – 13 11 14. To find out more or volunteer your help contact Lifeline through its website.
* Name changed to preserve his privacy.
Top photo courtesy of Alex Marks