My story is one that I will often tell, not in an endeavour to elicit any platitudes or sympathies, but more so because by telling it freely, it has a tendency to empower others to also open up, and in some cases, open up and share their own stories that they have kept bottled up for a very long time. This becomes a release for them, and also assists reduce the stigma that is still attached to suicide today.

I have a familial history of suicide on my mother’s side, although medical professionals will say that there is no link, counsellors and psychs will tell you that there is a definite link. My grandfather suffered from depression and died almost 60 years ago of pneumonia resulting from an unsuccessful suicide attempt. My grandmother suicided almost 30 years ago. A cousin also suffering from depression took his own life, at the very same time that his brother was dying of cancer. This was a tragic loss for his family, as the one with cancer wished that he had the life that the one who suicided lost, and they buried two sons within a year of each other. And 4 years ago, my mother suicided in a similar way to my grandmother.

I had a neighbour attempt to take his own life about 3 years ago, quite dramatically in front of his family. His eldest child came running in to me, as they did not know what to do, so I assisted, ensured his safety, and called for an ambulance to come assist.

A member of my cycling community also suicided earlier this year.

After my Grandmother’s suicide, we weren’t allowed to talk about it, nor were we allowed to say how she died, instead, the family invented a story. This was done not because the family was ashamed of what she had done, but because that was what society almost demanded at that time, and nobody wanted to hear about suicide. Much like cancer used to be spoken about in hushed terms, as if to say it out loud would increase your risk of contracting it, suicide still has much of that stigma attached.

When my Mother suicided, Dad’s immediate thought was to follow the pattern of what had been started so long before, and create a story about her death, rather than break the barriers and say that she had suicided. We spoke about this at length, and decided that this would not be healthy for either of us, and we decided to be honest about her suicide, and attempt to reduce the stigma.

The next issue would of course be how I break it to my daughter that her grandmother had suicided. What do you tell a 9 year old girl, who had been as close as she was allowed to be to her Grandmother? I decided to be honest with her also, but not immediately open with the full story, rather to release bits of information to her, more so as she asked the pertinent questions, rather than just be hit with it all in one session, and attempt to handle all of that information. This process actually worked very well. Children are incredibly strong, but best able to process smaller emotional packages than one big hit I believe. We also owe it to our children to be honest with them about the things impacting on their lives, rather than them learning the truth later in life, and accusing you as a parent of lying to them.

I also decided that the team that I work closest with also needed to know what was happening, so whilst we were waiting for the coroner to release my mother’s body to us, a process that took quite a long time, I gathered them together, and spoke to them about it. I explained much of the story to them also, which had the interesting effect of a couple of them coming up to me quietly, and sharing the losses they had experienced.

Dad and I believed in speaking out about suicide so strongly, that we both attended the inaugural training program for a team being put together called, “Living Beyond Suicide”, and assisted to develop and shape the program for the inaugural participants, and future training programs. This is a service provided by Anglicare, that trains volunteers how to assist families in the hours and days after a suicide, with the maze of things that face the bereaved.

They are not there to attempt to answer the inevitable questions of “Why did they suicide?”, or “How could they leave me like this?”, or “What could I have done differently?” etc, they are there to assist the family with things like what services/assistance are available to the family, assist with contacting other family members for support, funeral directors etc.

I started having rather negative thoughts myself some time ago, and thanks to some of the training I had received, and the conversations I have had with various counsellors and psychiatrists and psychologists, on both a professional and personal level, I picked up on the signs that I needed some help myself. Physical activity is a fantastic way of helping our mental health, and there are many of us who use cycling as their natural anti-depressants, but there are occasions when we need that extra support that only medical professionals can be provide. I am one of those cyclists who needs to cycle, but it ended up not being enough, and I am also taking anti-depressants to help keep myself on an even keel.

Never be scared of asking someone, even a complete stranger, are you ok? That simple question may make an amazing difference on that person’s life.

If you are feeling that you need some assistance, or you are feeling at risk of self harm, please do not hesitate to contact one of the trained volunteers from Lifeline on 13 1114. There are also a number of other agencies you can contact including Beyond Blue, 1300 22 4636.

Keep the rubber side down,

Smudge!