'Please take the time to observe your family members, friends and neighbours and if you think something is not right, speak up', writes Maggie Cooper.
'Please take the time to observe your family members, friends and neighbours and if you think something is not right, speak up', writes Maggie Cooper. Kat Jayne/Pexels

Don't be scared to speak out about mental health

LAST THURSDAY marked the first anniversary of the death of a friend and neighbour.

On November 21, 2018, Mark fled into the nearby bush at dusk and took his own life, leaving behind a grieving and (mostly) shocked community and family.

With the genius that is hindsight, some of his friends and neighbours can now see that he was in trouble for several months. A shoulder injury left him unable to surf for a long period and also deprived him of that most precious balm, a good night's sleep.

I live with depression and I had recognised his struggle but, as he was English - with the typical reserve that goes with that particular territory - I was reluctant to put him on the spot and ask if he needed help. I will never do that again with any acquaintance; if I have to ask awkward questions because I suspect someone is in trouble then I will, and bugger the embarrassment. In my defence, there were other factors going on in the background of which I had no knowledge, and I didn't know that he had been suicidal years earlier. But I can't help wondering had I asked if he needed help (even though others had and it was refused), could I have made a difference. I'll never know.

As part of my need to look after my own emotional health in the dreadful aftermath of Mark's death - I will never forget the horror of having to inspect my garden shed to see if he had chosen that as the place to end his life - I sought counselling. After many years of struggling with my own demons, thankfully I realise when I need help. Part of my therapy for dealing with Mark's death was writing him a letter; obviously he was never going to read it, but my psychologist thought it may be useful. So write a letter I did; four pages of grief, questions, empathy and compassion, but mostly anger. That particular emotion took me by surprise, but I was, in fact, very angry with him. Angry for the devastation he caused to his family, his son, his stepkids and his community here in our little town. I was angry because I know from dealing with my own feelings that the children of those who suicide are three times more likely to take their own lives.

At this time of year when many people are so vulnerable for many reasons, please take the time to observe your family members, friends and neighbours and if you think something is not right, speak up. Yes, it may cause awkwardness but that is a small price to pay for extending a hand to someone in need.

Lifeline: 13 11 14; Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636


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