I sit in the doctor’s waiting room. It’s the first time we’ve been here, and I have to fill out the New Patients form. My children play with a selection of incomplete, probably germy toys as I flick past questions, tick boxes.
Then I stop, unprepared for what comes next.
Mental illness in the family…? Yes. Mother, medicated. Father….
It’s the first time I’ve entered into my children’s medical history the fact that their father has died by suicide.
The doctor obviously hasn’t read my form.
“How did she your husband die?” She asks. she has a thick accent and kind eyes, and gives my children lollies to take away stings and fear.
“Suicide’” I answer bravely. “He killed himself.”
“Ah, well,” she replies, “you made the wrong choice this time, eh? You chose a man who suffered from depression. next time, you will not.”
I am gobsmacked. For so many reasons.
If I have depression, does that make less loveable, less worthy of being loved…? Now, or Before….?
I’d like to think not.
“The fifth of January. Yesterday… it was his birthday just yesterday.”
“Does he have any history of mental illness?”
The question knocks the breath from me, and when it returns it’s a thumping wave of sobs. How did this happen?
“No! I’m the one with mental health issues, I’m the one with depression. What the fuck is going on?”
A few days after this article in the SMH was published, one of Tony’s old friends from school posted on the wall for the memorial FaceBook group that is run by some of Tony’s mates on FaceBook.
The message was lovely- wishing me the best, thanking me for speaking. Stating that she had some understanding of what I was facing, as her daughter suffers from Bi-Polar.
I can’t remember the person’s name, and I never got to say thank you before the comment came down. So, if you’re reading, thank you.
A few people took offense to this comment, on the grounds that it mentioned mental illness. Compared Tony to someone who was mentally ill.
I’m not even sure where to…. *sigh*. Let’s start from the beginning.
My husband suffered from no diagnosed mental illness at the time of his death. However, when he was younger, he was, from what I was told by him, diagnosed with severe depression.
A pre-existing mental illness is a factor in most, but not all, attempted or completed suicides.
Personally, I think that just the act that you put a rope around your neck and jumped- not even once but twice- indicated that there is something very mentally wrong there. You don’t do that in a normal state of mind. You don’t do that just because you’re angry. That’s not a mentally ‘normal’ or healthy reaction, no matter what state your mental health was in up until that point.
Tony was stressed and worried and had a lot playing on his mind. Maybe he did have depression. Maybe not. The police and staff in the ICU agreed that Tony probably suffered from a violent psychosis.
I guess what all this comes back to is… why is mental illness such a dirty word? Why is it so shameful, so terrible, if he did have a mental illness? What fucking difference does it make? Does it make what he did any better, any worse?
For pity’s sake. This is half the problem.
There is no more shame in being mentally ill then there is in having a cold, or a broken ankle, or cancer. It’s an illness. It doesn’t make you any less of a person.
Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day. For the sake of family’s grieving all over the world…. talk about it. Speak.