ARE YOU OK?
Updated: Sep 6, 2019
The last day of August and another month goes by, for many families it is facing another day without a loved one as we enter into September. In Australia, Miners, Construction workers and Tradie’s have the highest suicide rates of any occupation. September is the start of spring in Australia, symbolising rebirth, hope, youth and growth. To some, it is an anniversary of a loved one lost to suicide and a light that will never shine again. Grief is shattering, bringing you to your knees in an insurmountable level of pain. Suicide of a loved one, leaves you reeling in unrelenting anguish of despair and guilt, not understanding why, questioning yourself and what you could have done differently. Suicide has no boundaries, it transcends nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class and status.
Liz Walker was born in Zimbabwe a country in Southern Africa, known for its dramatic landscape, diverse wildlife and breathtaking sunsets. On the 10th of December 1994 the landscape for Liz and her family was about to change tragically. Liz received a telephone call that was every parent’s worst nightmare. It was the call to turn around and come home, because something devastating had happened. Liz rushed into their family home, trying to keep her younger daughter at bay, to find her oldest daughter Jackie had shot herself. It was final, there was no going back, there was no rewind button, just a letter left behind with words that seemed both coherent and calm, saying goodbye. There was a sudden sense of numbness, shock and gripping pain of loss that was to last for weeks, months and years.
Jackie was only 21 years of age; she had her whole life ahead of her. Jackie passed all her exams as a Safari Guide and loved doing photographic safaris, sharing her passion for the bush and wildlife. She was a natural introvert and her circle of friends was about quality and not quantity. Jackie had aspirations of getting married and having a family. There were no warning signs or indication that she wanted to take her own life. Jackie like many others however, make a decision that they believe is the best one for them at the time and follow through with it. Her decision however, had a profound and life changing impact on her family. Her sister Sam was 18 at the time of Jackie’s passing and said at her funeral “when you went away, you took my smile with you.” How do you begin to say goodbye, when you are not ready to, when it was not supposed to be her time?
On the 21st of July 2019, Universal Electro Tech lost a friend, colleague and Electrician. Andrew was 28 years of age when he took his own life. He was an impressionable young man, with an infectious laugh and smile that would light up a room. When Andrew was not working hard to build his business, he was embracing the outdoors with his love for boating and fishing. Looking in from the outside, Andrew had everything going for him and his future was bright. Research has suggested that normally when someone is considering suicide, you will be given clues or even subtle signs. Some suicides however, are impulsive acts due to extreme stress, relationship difficulties, financial problems or bullying. Unfortunately, there were no warning signs to understand why Andrew chose to turn his light of life off.
The ripple effect of suicide is immense and will pierce through you like broken glass.
Suicide as we know is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. For many it is permanent and for others it can be catastrophic because it goes wrong, causing physical disfiguration, and emotional and mental trauma. Kuben was in his forties in South Africa when he consumed toxic pool chemicals, believing it would end his life. He was rushed to hospital and saved, but the internal burns and scaring was permanent and incomprehensible. Mental disorders, including depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, addictions and substance abuse (including alcoholism & the use of benzodiazepines) are considered high risk factors for suicide.
Kuben suffered with depression, making him a higher risk to suicide.
Whereas Jackie and Andrew did not suffer with depression, there decision was impulsive and like watching a heart monitor, they both mentally and physically flat lined. Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time and affects your everyday life. In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits. It doesn’t stop you leading your life, but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. Things that you previously enjoyed, seem less enjoyable. At its most severe, depression can then be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal.
We all have times when our mood is low, and feel sad or despondent about life. Usually these feelings pass in due course. But, if the feelings are interfering with your life and don't go away after a couple of weeks, or if they come back over and over again for a few days at a time, it could be a sign that you're experiencing depression. If you are given a diagnosis of depression, you might be told that you have mild, moderate or severe depression. This describes what sort of impact your symptoms are having on you, and what sort of treatment you're likely to be offered. Depression can be different for people; “Sometimes it feels like a black hole, but sometimes it feels like I need to cry and scream and kick and shout. Sometimes I go quiet and lock myself in my room, and sometimes I have to be doing something at all times of the day to distract myself”.
Suicide affected everyone in Liz’s family, but counselling helped her daughter Sam and her son Cliff learn how to cope with the void of their eldest sister. Twenty-five years from Jackie’s death, there are still triggers of deep sadness and emotion. Christmas, birthdays, special occasions and even seeing certain things evoke memories of what was. As a family they managed Jackie’s death very differently. Liz experienced a panic attack for the first time in her life, whereas Jackie’s Dad found it very difficult to talk about and kept his emotions close to his chest. Kübler-Ross described five stages of grief, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance which can be triggered by death, relationships ending or terminal illness. These stages are not linear and individuals may only experience two stages, rather than all five.
Life throws us curve balls and we are reminded that we are not immune to experience pain, hurt, betrayal and loss. We simply deal with it differently, based on our individual wiring and mental health. Sadly, those who have previously attempted suicide are at a higher risk for future attempts. There are effective suicide prevention efforts that include limiting access to firearms, drugs, and poisons, as well as treating mental disorders and substance misuse with professional help. It is looking out for the signs both verbal and non-verbal. Has someone you know become withdrawn socially, are they demonstrating reckless behaviour, a change in diet, expressing anger or showing a persistent drop in mood. It maybe they feel hopeless or fail to see a future, believing they are a burden and are worthless. Would you reach out and ask ‘R U Okay? If you are affected with suicidal thoughts and depression, do you feel like you can talk to a family member, friend or colleague?
Liz became a volunteer at Lifeline more than 7 years ago, providing four hours a week support to help people in crisis. Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. With the confrontation of loss, trauma and self-discovering, Liz wanted to help others. Liz is one of 192 Lifeline WA call centre volunteers who has been trained to listen, hear and provide support to those in crises and feeling alone. Liz said “People go down this big black hole and they can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.” “There is a tremendous amount of people who phone Lifeline because it is anonymous.” “When they feel that they have been heard and you hear the hope returning in their voices it is very rewarding.”
Everyone needs someone to touch base with from time to time, to feel wanted, valued or needed. There is nothing more powerful than a gesture of friendship, a touch of a hand, someone willing to listen and giving a heartfelt hug without expectation. If you don’t feel like you have a person to connect with on this level, reach out to a professional association like Lifeline, Beyond Blue or a professional psychologist. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” -Phil Donahue. Help is available, your life counts, you can heal and although you may feel like you are falling apart, somebody wants to know your story and help you manage your pain. Don’t be in the shadows crippled in pain, someone knows you, someone loves you and wants you to be part of their future.
We can all shine a light and provide hope to those who feel there is no other option. It sometimes really is as simple as asking if you are okay. Reaching out and making a phone call to say hello, or getting together for a coffee. Although there is more awareness regarding mental health, there is still so much work to be done to remove the stigma. At Universal Electro Tech and Universal Switchboards, we want to be part of removing the shame of mental health and opening the lines of communication to ask ‘R U Okay’? If you need help, reach out to a friend, family member, colleague, general practitioner or a professional association. It may feel like you are fragmented, and the pieces of your life will never feel whole again, but they will! Let’s provide hope and passion across all nationalities and countries, by creating awareness and support for mental health.
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Written by Rosemary Hocknell (Sales and Marketing Manager Universal Electro Tech)
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