Monday, September 15, 2008

Read Between the Lines

‘Feinted at school today. At the front of assembly. Hardly slept last night. Survived a jog this morning with Dad, barely. I feel bad! There’s no real reason I can think of. Lack of sleep maybe. Tomorrow is school camp. What is going on with me? Felicity Peel is nice to me. So is Shayaga , Ben and everyone. Today is the first day of year 12. I haven’t finished my holiday homework and I don’t want to. Most people managed to finish all their homework. I feel like I cant do anything! But I can! I just don’t want to! I don’t want to bring down my whole school’s score! I’m not excited about sport. I’m dreading house swimming and house athletics. Is it just ‘cos I’m tired? It wouldn’t be that hard to just end everything.’

These are the last written words of a 17 year old, minutes before she took her own life. I've just watched "Australian Story" a wonderful documentary series which covers all sorts of human interest from life on the land to emigrant tales, celebrity lives and of course those who plough through many areas of physical and psychological challenge. I was actually on the computer with the story in the background and it wrenched my heart . .

There was a time in his early teens when Adam, not the best of communicators as a tween, frequently said he felt 'funny' not in a physical way but when I think back he had a lot to cope with. He went to a school where he didn't know anyone, was dealing with the onset of puberty, was overweight and self-conscious and I wonder now if perhaps he was going through some sort of depression but simply didn't know how to express it. Fortunately it was short lived and of course, he's fine now. Well-adjusted, tall, popular, muscled, handsome and in love so that episode was soon extinguished. Not so for many youngsters who know there's something wrong but are unable to express their angst in even the most loving of families.

Hannah Modrum, came from a loving, middle class family. She had great relationships with her parents and sibling and despite the difficulties of living with a deeply autistic brother they were close. So close that her mother was absolutely astonished and shattered when she read her daughter's diary after her death, it clearly conveyed feelings of sadness, tiredness, and a gentle bewilderment at why she felt the way she did. Her family were supportive, sought medical help for their tired and lacklustre teen but the awful truth was that Hannah suffered from depression and was never properly diagnosed and never shared her feelings with either schoolmates or family.

This was an intelligent, attractive, popular little girl who thought she could handle things on her own, not bother her family who had already been burdened with placing their son into care and her mother's cancer scare. She tried going it alone and put her thoughts in her diary.

I've never read my daughter's diary. I know she documents much on her travels and scribbles away in notebooks when the mood takes her. I've found little books whilst tidying her room but always resisted the temptation (respected her need to vent via the written word). I've stared longingly at the covers . .but never actually opened them. I think our relationship is open enough for her to tell me if there's a problem but now I wonder. I've always respected both my children's privacy to an extent but . . makes you wonder if sometimes you should take a non-judgemental peek, just in case.

She was the girl least likely . . and her parent's heartbreak brought me close to tears.

All I can say, is that if you know anyone who gives the slightest of clues whether you know them or not, step in, lend a hand, let them know there is help and hope, someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, and that it's not something to be ashamed of. I'm incredibly impressed that this family had the bravery to share their daughter's story and hope it offers courage to other parents to show some compassion and ask the gentle questions rather than reap the awful consequences. It's important to read between the lines. If you're wrong . .no harm done . .if you're right . .could safe a life! And kudos, really, to the Modra family for airing their story . .very brave and very necessary.

Salvation Army 24 hour Care Line: 1300 36 36 22
Lifeline 24 hour Counselling Service: 13 11 14
Kids Help Line: 1800 551 800
24 hour counselling service for young people aged 5 - 18
The Samaritans
Or freecall 1800 199 008
Mental Health Emergency Response Line: 1300 555 788
Western Australian Governement Department Of Health Mental Health Emergency Report Line
SANE: Mental Health Information Help Line
1800 187 263 Monday to Friday 9-5 Email:
Vision Australia Translating and Interpreting Service: 13 14 50
Rural Mental Health Network Support Line: 1800 201 123
An organisation aimed primarily at farmers in NSW.
Reach Out! is a web-based service that inspires young people to help themselves through tough times.
Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467 (10am – 8:30pm)
The Suicide Call Back Service is a free nation-wide telephone support service for people at risk of suicide, their carers and those bereaved by suicide. The service is the first professional service of its kind in Australia, providing people with up to 6 telephone counselling sessions, whereby the same counsellor will call those in need at times suitable for them. The service operates seven days a week, from 10am – until 8:30pm and has already assisted over 200 of Australia’s most at risk individuals.


Jay said...

Oh, how terribly sad...

When my younger son was at secondary school (between 11 and 16) he got into a similar state. In his case it was as clear as day to me, and some, if not all, the reasons were also clear. He thought he was stupid (comparing himself to his older brother, unfairly), he was bullied, both by students and staff, he'd lost all confidence in himself and his work was suffering.

ALL the teachers were concerned about was his influence on the statistics, from his own personal input and the effect his unhappiness and consequent bad behaviour were having on other students.

When I went to a staff meeting and told them that he'd threatened suicide to be met with stony silence, and 'well, then. What are we going to do about ...?' changing the subject back to the petty classroom concerns, I decided that whatever the cost to the school system I would support my child. I allowed him to stay home whenever he felt unable to cope, and backed him against the teachers. Thank God I did. He survived, and bloomed late, and is now doing very, very well and is an allround, competent nice guy.

Sounds as if young Hannah felt unbearable pressure from school and from life in general. She no doubt put pressure on herself too. Poor girl, and what a waste.

Thriftcriminal said...

Rough one, God, I'd feel terrible, even though they did nothing wrong and lots right it must be devestating. It's also difficult to remember what it was like to be a teenager, I often comment that they are idiots, which struictly speaking is not far off the mark as their brains are being re-wired by puberty and could just as well have a "closed for maintanence" sign on them, the problem is the whole emotional side is dialed up to maximum while the rational side is out of order. Hmm. Note to self, interract with sprogs a lot.

BTW, some of the diary stuff is deeply reminiscent of Oliver James' observations of mental health issues among school girls in his book Affluenza. Friedmanites hate that book :-)

Miladysa said...

That poor family and how brave of them to help others.

A very touching post B.

Thank you.

Nick said...

That's so often the case, Baino, that people contemplating suicide keep their distress to themselves and aren't brave enough to share their feelings with people who could help. I've read many times of parents and friends who were completely baffled by someone's suicide and didn't have an inkling they were thinking that way. And if people don't take suicide threats seriously, as Jay says, then that only perpetuates personal secretiveness.

laughingwolf said...

sad indeed, and far too common worldwide...

what with how much of the planet has been going downhill for at least 30 years, young ones face too many problems too soon, that never even occurred to us when we were their age :(

and yes, depression is so hard to detect!

Christopher said...

Ditto that, laughingwolf. Depression can be extremely hard to detect because some people hide the symptoms very well.
On the other hand when I was a teenager I knew a girl at another school who had a friend who committed suicide. Honestly, it really hurt to be even so tangentially connected to the event. What was worst, though, was the attitude of the kid's teachers. He showed all the warning signs: he'd become withdrawn, he started failing in classes where he'd excelled. Oh yes, he also went around saying he was going to kill himself. He even gave a specific time and place (his home, while his parents were gone). This kid had a wide circle of friends and they all talked to their teachers, begging for help. The teachers all gave the same answer: "don't get involved."
They didn't. He was found by police at his home on the day he said he was going to commit suicide.

Ropi said...

Well it is sad when a young person takes away his her life. It is quite sad when someone gives up his-her life while others lose it while they would gladly live.

Gledwood said...

I first suffered depression bad enough to want to die when I was 10. All through my teens I got phases of being very slowed down, lacking in energy and "lethargic"... though this always felt as much if not more physical than mental... when I was 19 I left home for uni and plunged down into depths where I stayed for over 2 years... in fact it took more than 4 years to get completely out of that depression...

then I got "chronic fatigue syndrome"... then the heroin came on top of THAT!

Ces said...

Terribly sad and painful. You wished they were just attempting and asking for help but those who commit are so deeply desperate. My friend and her 9 y.o. son untied the rope from his husband's dead body, in their garage. They were looking for him after he complained that he had a headache. How devastating to hear of his death. He was a very good man who also worked in our coprorate office. We all felt terribly for his young son. I have cared for and revived my fellow nurses who attempted suicide and were brought in to the same trauma rooms where we worked together. A couple had drug problems. Another nurse friend was found floating in a Louisianna bayou. It's terrible how these beautiful women ended up so desperate they had to take their own lives. One must have lost all hope.

Quickroute said...

Very sad. Ireland had a ridiculously high teen suicide rate back in the 80's. I just hope now that the economy is slipping again it doesn't repeat itself.

steph said...

Good advice there, Baino

Those who suffer from depression are generally very good at hiding it as that's what they have to do to get through each day.

I know a family well whose youngest son took his own life at home. That family have paid the price ever since in terms of their own lives. The guilt is so totally devastating for those left behind.

In a society that has gone mad with materialism, it's no harm to be reminded that we need to put people first and to reach out to those who need a helping hand.

Baino said...

Certainly grabbed my attention Jay. I've been close to that sort of thing but fortunately the outcome for the person concerned was positive. Shame about your son, bullying and not fitting in are very difficult things for parents and kids to deal with. I'm surprised at the attitude of the school frankly.

Thrifty, you've yet to broach the teenage years with your little angels but I really think non judgemental communication is essential. Although if someone is hell bent on ending it, they'll find a way. I must get that book, it sounds really interesting.

Well it 'touched' me Miladysa. Some time ago, my mechanic committed suicide due to impending bankruptcy and I thought him very selfish to leave a wife and two teenage sons but I think my perspective has changed over the last couple of years. It's an act of total desperation.

Quite so Nick and sometimes, it's the tiniest clue that gives away something is not all right. It not only perpetuates secrecy but also results in lifelong guilt for those who failed to notice.

Wuffa you're right, I think teenagers have much on their plate and certainly more pressure than I ever had at school.

Yep Ropi, seems quite a paradox doesn't it.

OH Christopher, that's a sad but very familiar story. A few years back we had two boys literally jump to their deaths from the harbour bridge, they discussed it, planned it and nobody was surprised when they carried it through but not a soul did anything to prevent it.

Gleds, you're one I worry about! You've had a rough trot and it's not helped by smack but what can I do? Seriously. . .you're so bright, intelligent and interesting . . .Well you know my feelings, I'd like to spring for your rehab and make you stay until you're clean just to remove you from that awful place you're so often at.

Ces it seems everyone has at least one story of such tragedy. Somehow it's so much worse when it's someone young. Must be very difficult dealing with colleagues who have sunk to such depths.

Quickie, I heard that. I certainly hope things are improving a little. Makes you wonder why? School pressure, peer pressure, focus on appearance rather than substance, lack of opportunity? Who knows?

Steph I'm full of advice - not sure whether it's good or not - but you're right, people matter, family matters, workmates matter . . .even the unpleasant ones are human under the skin.

Bear Naked said...

This is a very informative and well thought out post about suicide.

Thank you for commenting on my post today.
If by posting my personal experiences with TVT surgery helps just ONE woman then it will be well worth it.

Bear((( )))

Kath Lockett said...

As someone with a Black Dog of my own - and, looking back, may even have had a puppy in my own teen years, sometimes the very best thing that someone can do for you is to just let you be.

By this I mean almost grabbing you by the shoulder and giving you permission to rest, to fail sometimes, to stop doing something you don't want to but are still doing out of loyalty or habit.

The last thing any sufferer needs to hear is 'don't take it personally' because it is deeply personal, and every bit of duty, pressure and stressful event is another blow and push further down into the pit of despair, worthlessness and hopelessness.

Sometimes too, there's nothing anyone else can do, except offer help or an ear and hope like hell its accepted. It's the cruellest affliction facing our society today I reckon.

Kath Lockett said...

Oh and Nick, please don't say that sufferers 'aren't brave enough' to seek help. Sometimes just living - and doing what you think is expected of you - is a form of strength and bravery far greater than anyone else can imagine.

ian said...

Hi Baino,

I've read this three times - it doesn't get less sad.

I've suffered from depression since I was a kid - dropping out of university for a year when it got very bad. It's a completely arbitrary thing, it just hits you at times.

Sometimes it can be explained by things round about, but sometimes there is just no answer. It's just there.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

So very sad and tragic yet so increasingly prevalent, especially amongst teens. Puberty is a hard enough time but with the added pressures children face today it is not surprising that teen suicide stats are on the rise.

The thing about depression is that it can be very difficult to detect, as many of your other readers have said. For the teen it is hard to talk about, and they may not always have someone to talk to. Many simply retreat within and yet somehow manage to maintain a facade that gives nothing away. I know, I've been there.
We live, sadly, in a society where any form of mental illness - and depression is an illness just like flu or cancer - is viewed with a very little compassion. As such, it is very hard for sufferers to come forward and ask for help. The more people realise that depression is not a "sin", just an illness, the more open we will all become and the easier it will be for sufferers to seek help, and from those around them, to pick up the often very tiny signs that are inevitably there.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Oh, meant to add, there's something for you at my place.

Baino said...

Kath I know you've had the 'dark haze' as a friend of mine called it. Must be difficult struggling with it and hoping that your black dog doesn't get a grip. All I can say is I have great empathy for sufferers and there is help if only you can muster the strength to reach out. It's a far more common disease than I ever imagined. Sorry to hear about your recent disappointments but you're right, you have a lovely husband, a beautiful daughter and a wonderful blog! You inspire me actually.

Ian I'm sorry, I didn't mean to drag up sad times for sufferers. I know from friends and here that it's always a spectre in the background and doing what you do for a living/vocation must make it very hard sometimes. I think you're amazing the way you cope. I can tell when you're on your low ebb actually. I wanted to say something funny about Merve Hughes or French Rugby but here . .it doesn't seem very appropriate. You know where I am if you want to let off steam. I've learned particularly over the past 2 years that I'm not a half bad virtual psychiatrist!

AV in Australia it's becoming better understood as those who suffer actually do begin to speak out. There are ads on telly and a wonderful organisation called Beyond Blue that is very high profile but I imagine if you're depressed you want to crawl into a hole not face up to it in a roomful of sharers. I don't think I've ever had 'depression' as an illness but I've certainly been depressed, contemplated ending it all, spent hours crying over nothing . . .then I seem to get over it so I guess I'm just coping with life the way most do. On the other side, so many people 'moan' about being depressed and the 'woe is me' attitude that I think it conditions many of us to just say 'Buck up, get a life, pick yourself up and get on with it' but it's never that easy for sufferers.

Sorry everyone. I didn't mean to bring you down but it was such a brave story for the parents, a sad ending and had some personal resonance for me, plus it hit me like a brick in the face so if it helps someone come forward and seek help . . small mercies.

Grannymar said...

I was in a fog yesterday and missed this post. Good to bring the topic out and get the conversation going.

Annie Ha said...

A few weeks ago I heard that a neighborhood kid I knew shot himself in his home. I assume his mother found him because there was no one else living there. He was a mixed up kid but just recently a friend of mine said she thought he had finally found his place in the world. Apparently he did not. It is a strange sensation, hearing that someone you know has done that. I feel such pain for his family, I can't imagine how one gets through that, especially the parents, especially the mother.