To coincide with the release of Firenight – a young adult fiction novel with its theme firmly entrenched in finding value in our own lives – I thought it only appropriate to start this blog on topic. Every day, at least six Australians die from suicide and a further thirty people will attempt to take their own life. Over one in four young people experience serious depression every year. Young people all over the world are obliterated by the loss of hope and lack of understanding and find themselves propelled into a dark journey of self-harm, severe depression and suicide.
I was inspired to write Firenight as a vehicle to do my bit to contribute to raising awareness about the serious issues facing young people today and their all-too-often exposure to serious depression, self-harm and self-destruction.
This is an extract from Firenight. Sara, our hero character, reflects on the nuances of her battle with depression and self-harm.
“…my counsellor told me that severe depression was one of the most underappreciated illnesses in society. Girls and boys my age, were regularly overdosing on pills, gassing themselves in their parents’ car, jumping off cliffs and throwing themselves in front of trains.
Resources to battle the epidemic were almost non-existent, government funding was farcical, the legal system was in denial and the stigma attached to so-called loonies meant most of us who needed help didn’t, or couldn’t, find it.
Worst of all, those closest to the loonies – mums, dads, brothers, sisters, boyfriends, girlfriends, teachers, priests – couldn’t comprehend the seriousness of what was going on. To them, it was just a passing phase that was easiest to turn a blind eye to. Comments like, ‘Get over it, you’ll be fine’ and ‘Cheer up, mate’ were common, misconceived attempts at support that only fuelled the burning worthlessness inside.
Mum saw scratches on my arms one morning as I stepped from the shower. “What are they?” she asked. I told her, more honestly than I could ever imagine being now, that I had deliberately carved them with sowing scissors because I was sad. She stared blankly, unquestionably confused. But all I got was, “Well that’s a stupid thing to do, Sara. Just be happy.”
She never asked about my arms again.
For most of us besieged by the despicable monster of depression, it was a lonely battle, a solitary nightmare, often with no perceivable end in sight.
A fight against a silent serial-killer.
I understood the attraction to the pills, the cliffs, the trains – I should already have found death in them myself. The most difficult and heartbreaking feat was to have others understand. No one ever did.
It was simply easier to jump.”
Both extensive research and my own personal experience suggest that the “Get over it, you’ll be fine” dismissal is the axiomatic seed of the inability for sufferers – and particularly young sufferers – to gain any traction in seeking assistance. Mental and/or emotional difficulties were not something that past generations regularly dealt with. You were either sane (or “normal”) or you were in a mental hospital. There was no in between.
While severe depression has been around for hundreds of years as a medical/psychological disorder, the idea of a young girl struggling within a social-psychotic quagmire is relatively new. The fact that such moods are often pre-cursors to spiralling into self-mutilation and, ultimately, self-destruction, is what makes it such a potent enemy.
In many cases, the first time that parents, friends or other family members are able to “accept” that its more than simple melancholy, is when they receive a phone call from law enforcement asking for someone to come and identify a corpse. This is complete unacceptable and we, as a global community, need to do more.
The key to precipitating change is to understand that the issue lies not with the individual suffering the depression, but with the failure of those around the sufferer to understand, acknowledge and accept that it is their responsibility – as compassionate human beings – to do whatever is necessary to be the soft place to fall.
Those of us who can fight for ourselves have a moral obligation to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.
While things are better now than even ten years ago, there is still a high degree of stigma attached to mental disorders. How many young boys in a school environment would choose to go and see a school counsellor about family issues?
In the 1980s, social stigma embedded within the AIDS virus prevented sufferers from dignity, love and care at a time when they needed it most. Individuals burdened with severe depression should not be ostracised, they need to be nurtured.
We need to empower ourselves with a much higher degree of empathy and understanding towards others and shed (often completely wrong) preconceptions about depression, self-harm and suicide.
Speaking from personal experience, I simply encourage everyone to not let a day go by where you miss an opportunity to ask a friend, a colleague or even a complete stranger if they are okay. A warm word and genuine smile can be the singular experience in an individual’s day that prevents them from throwing themselves in front of a train.
We have to do more!