Boys don’t cry. They commit suicide

Last week I learnt of another tragic teen suicide. Jayden Arnold committed suicide in the early hours of Sunday, the 9th of November. No one saw his suicide coming; Jayden was attractive, he was a leader, he was a “normal” guy. Yet he suffered so deeply he felt he had no other option but to take his own life.

Six months prior to the suicide Jayden’s school counsellor disclosed to his family that he was struggling with anxiety. He saw a psychologist and his family thought his anxiety was being handled. Unfortunately, the scope of Jayden’s suffering was deeper than his friends and family could have ever known.

Suicide is the leading cause in men aged 15-44. Men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. It is a silent killer. Silent because no one is talking about it.

IMG_2124.JPG
It blows my mind that we live in one of the most developed countries, where opportunities are endless and quality of life is high, yet suicide rates continue to grow. Australia places 49 out of 110 in the list of countries with the highest suicide rates. Coming before countries that live in poverty, that live in war. So why are as many as five teens attempting suicide everyday? And why are three out of those five male?

Mental illness is actually higher in women; one in five men experience anxiety and one in eight will have depression, whereas for women one in six experience depression and anxiety affects one in three. But only 27% of men seek help, compared to 40% of women. Jack Heath, SANE Australia chief executive offer says this is because “there are notions of masculinity and what it means to be a man that prevent them from getting help.”

“There’s a belief that the very idea of being a man is that you deal with stuff and you don’t reach out or connect. Untreated, the problem snowballs. The combination of that and the notion of having to deal with it alone, is the reason behind high suicide rates”, Jack says.

Being depressed or suffering from anxiety does not make you less “manly” or “weak”, it just makes you human. It means you have true feelings, true feelings that we all feel; just some cope with better than others.

Like that of cancer, depression is a disease. Whilst it may not have any physical markers, it’s there and it’s life threatening. My heart aches for those that suffer in silence due to the stigma society has created about mental illness. If we want to prevent further deaths of our teens who haven’t even experienced life yet, it is our responsibility as a nation to break down the stereotypes and create a public discussion where everyone feels free to contribute.

Recently Natasha Mitchell, presenter of RN’s Life Matters and an ambassador for the ABC’s mental health initiative, Mental As, questioned if we have lost the language to talk about despair. And we have. But we have the power to claim it back. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to future generations, and we owe it to the families of those who have committed suicide. We need to find a way to speak about the unmentionable.

Depression is to suicide as obesity is to diabetes, and it is killing our children. At the very least, can we please start talking about it?

As we learn about a balanced diet and safe sex in school, it is time to learn about mental illness. Knowledge is power; and hopefully the knowledge of mental health will have the power to stop tragic deaths in the future, like that of Jayden Arnold.

RIP Jayden Arnold 

I’m Depressed… Now What?

Driving home on Monday afternoon after a beautiful day at the beach with my boyfriend I was reminded that two years ago my life wasn’t so easy. The words mental health, depression and anxiety resonated through my radio. I stopped mindlessly changing radio stations and starting listening… Really listening.

“1 in 2 people will suffer a mental health illness”

“Young people have the highest right of mental health programs”

“It was after a year that I actually realized I have depression”

 This was the beginning of the mental health segment on Triple J’s hack program with Tom Tilley. From Sunday the 5th to Sunday the 12th Triple J and ABC are going ‘Mental As’, focusing on our nation’s mental health in support of Mental Health Week. Mental Health Week coincides with World Mental Health Day that is held on the 10th of October and aims to promote social and emotional well being to the community.

Unbeknownst to most of my family and friends I suffered from depression two years ago and still suffer from anxiety from time to time today. Depression and anxiety came into my life in one joyful little bundle. Looking back the change from school to university was the trigger to both of my mental health problems. The graduation of school brings with it significant pressure for any student; not because of the HSC but because of the question, “So what do you want to do now?” For me it was this question that sent my life into a downward spiral. I was desperate to be successful at university but I couldn’t picture how I was going to make that happen. In my mind I saw it best to quit whilst I was ahead, to not attend class or let anyone know what I was going through. For a smart girl I was making some dumb choices. But that’s the funny thing about anxiety; it doesn’t give you any choices. It renders you powerless and takes control of your life.

I remember driving to class and as I got closer I would be hit with an undeniable sense of panic; a feeling that I had to escape and I had to do it NOW. At the time depression and anxiety were foreign terms to me. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone how I was feeling or even admit to myself the severity. I tried to blame my depression on anything I could deem ‘normal’ – hormones, lack of sleep from binge watching episodes of “House”, a new relationship… These were all contributing factors just not the causation. It wasn’t until I became crippled from even attending class and would rather sit at my computer for hours crying than write a simple essay that I realised that there was something else going on and decided to seek help.

I don’t remember mental health week or an R U OK? Day two years ago. They definitely existed but only recently has the stigmatisation of mental illness been reformed to allow a healthy public discussion within the community. If I had heard that 6% of Australian’s would be diagnosed with depression this year and 15% with anxiety I may have come forth earlier with my issues. As a community we have an obligation to work together to break the stigma and transform perception to recognise mental illness not as a weakness, but as a life-threatening disease. Individuals particularly youth should not suffer in silence as I did. Depression is not a cry for sympathy; most of the time people are too ashamed to even cry for help, rather crying into their pillow at night pondering the questions of life. But no one should feel ashamed by his or her sadness. After all mental illness is an uncontrollable and unavoidable force.

As a nation we are beginning to take steps in the right direction towards awareness of mental illness. This week ABC’s mini series “Changing Minds” has premiered in coordination with mental health week. The show provides a radical insight into the truly confronting lives of patients suffering from mental illness within an Australian mental health unit. The show has been described as a zeitgeist for mental health awareness and understanding and it is obvious why. In one of the opening scenes Dr. Mark Cross says, “Mental illness is one of the very few illnesses in the world that doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can become mentally ill”. The show follows three very different patients, all of different age and different types of mental illness. It personifies the perception of people suffering from mental illness and shows the personal ambition to achieve a state of emotional well being not normally associated with people of mental illness.

Celebrity influence has been at the forefront of mental health awareness. In the tragic deaths of Robin Williams and Charlotte Dawson the serious consequences of mental illness were given a much-needed spotlight and dominated social media. There has also been a recent wave of celebrities coming forth in the media to talk publicly about their experiences with mental health issues, think Demi Lovato and eating disorders or Catherine Zeta Jones and her bipolar disorder. Through utilising media platforms such as radio, television, magazines and social media mental health issues are becoming less taboo and more talk-able.

Luckily for me I have amazing family and friends (and therapist) who helped me through my period of darkness. In my experience it only takes telling that one person, for me it was my Dad, to seek help from another but also to help yourself. Just having that first conversation is taking a step towards recovery. With Mental Health Week upon us it is so important to continue to spread awareness and educate ourselves so that conversation CAN be had as a nation. Even if mental illness does not affect you on a personal level, it will affect someone you know and love at some point in your life. Help break the stigma, show your support as a nation and if you need to know more watch Changing Minds, visit http://www.abc.net.au/mentalas/ and read yourself into acceptance.