Mandurah community reeling after six teenage suicides

Stock image.
Stock image.

THE Mandurah community is reeling after six suicide deaths among high school aged children.

Six teenagers from the Peel region reportedly took their lives in a matter of months; three of them were from the same school.

However, it will be up to the State Coroner to confirm or investigate the cause of deaths.

GP Down South business manager Eleanor Britton said there were “awful tragedies happening in the community”.

“We are aware of what is happening… and we have programs that we run in the schools,” she said.

“We run a three tier youth mental health program and there is a lot of support for that program from both sides of government.”

Liberal MLA Kim Hames and Labor MLA David Templeman both support this program.

However, it relies purely on community fundraising.

MORE: The local mum raising money for Kid’s Helpline

Ultimately, Ms Britton would like to create a youth-focused health centre.

“We are seeing 400 people a month, 40 per cent of them have mental health issues,” she said.

“We want to expand the facility to support young people in the Peel region.”

Last year, GP Down South lost one of its social workers after St John of God Hospital decided to stop funding the position.

When St John of God was approached for comment at the time, they did not give a reason for the decision.

Peel Youth Services chief Be Westbrook said suicide was “such a delicate subject”.

Her service sends a male and a female worker into local high schools once a week.

“Often when a young person is sad they don’t want to get professional help because there is a stigma,” she said.

“Suicide can have a flow on affect, one person can commit suicide and they can get into that vortex of sadness.

Ms Westbrook said despite all the training they received, often health professionals did not see the symptoms.

She said depression could often lead to thoughts of suicide.

“But then the person can get happy because they’ve got direction,” she said.

“Often people use social media instead of talking, but empathy from one person to another can be more powerful person to person.”

Ms Westbrook said people who knew the teenagers who took their lives might be blaming themselves.

“When things like this happen, young people get together and hold their ceremonies,” she said.

One of these ceremonies took place on April 8 and hundreds of high school aged children got together, releasing black and white balloons for their lost classmate Phoenix Fa’alelea.

Funeral

Dave Schumacher, a passionate campaigner for mental health issues in Mandurah, was there to say goodbye to the student.

“The grief and pain was so evident,” he said.

“Please if you need help, if you are hurting, if you need to talk, please just ask someone.

“If you do, then your loved ones and your friends will not have to grieve and cry, and you will lead a happier life, and so will we.

“No issue or problem that you have cannot be resolved, please know and believe this.”

Statistics show increase in child suicides

The Department of Education has so far confirmed two suspected suicides at secondary schools in Mandurah.

An Education Department spokesperson said suitable support was always offered to students and staff members when a school community was affected by the sudden death of a student.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of deaths that are registered in any year will be different to the number of deaths that actually occurred in that year.

Its latest statistics (from 2013) list suicide as the leading cause of death of children between five and 17-years-old.

The number is small, but significant due to the proportion of all deaths within this age group.

In 2009, 9.9 per cent of all deaths of children aged five to 17 were due to suicide. By 2013, that number had risen to 19.3 per cent.

Mandurah woman Aleiah Green knows what it is like to lose a loved one to suicide – her twin brother Dylan took his own life on July 23, 2002.

Dylan Green

While Aleiah and Dylan were not identical, they shared the same cheeky sense of humour and an enthusiasm for life.

However Dylan was hiding a secret – he “had demons he didn’t show on the outside”, according to Aleiah.

“At first I didn’t believe it,” she said.

“Then I was shocked and confused.

“I felt like a part of me was gone.

“I didn’t know how to deal with it or what to do.”

Health and community psychologist Marny Lishman said most individuals who commit suicide felt hopeless, with thoughts that were quite distorted.

“It is likely that they are feeling completely overwhelmed in that moment,” she said.

While there are some warning signs to look out for, Aleiah said Dylan did not show any.

“I was at TAFE and the high school was joined at the time,” she said.

“He came and had morning tea with me and said he would be back at lunch.

“I rang him but he said he had a free period and was going to buy chook food and take it home to mum.

“He sounded fine. He bought the chook food but never made it home.”

Dr Lishman said people who commit suicide might not necessarily have depression.

“Most people who attempt or die by suicide have a mental health condition or substance abuse problem,” she said.

“These problems may distort thinking – therefore they have trouble coping with the stress of what might be happening to them in that moment.

“They don’t feel they have the right problem-solving skills or decision making skills to navigate through their life at that time.

“They might not be able to see that what is going on for them in that moment is temporary.”

‘Stop and think’ before acting

Aleiah urges young people who may be thinking this way to stop and think.

“Tomorrow is another day. Nothing is worth ending your life for,” she said.

“Your pain will go away when you’re gone, but it’s passed on to the people you leave behind and the ones that love you and that pain lasts forever.

“If you have any feelings of suicide, talk to someone.

“You may feel alone or that the world is better off without you but you are important and loved by someone.

“Life has obstacles and pressures, but there are always solutions.”

Dylan had a future – he was about to audition in Sydney for a part in the X-men movie, and was going through the interview process to go to the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.

“He had a dream and it was coming true,” Aleiah said.

“He was kind and considerate; he was always trying to make people laugh and never hesitated to lend a helping hand.

“He was sensitive and things did get to him.”

Aleiah encourages other people to “stop and be considerate and kind”.

“A person may look fine and confident on the outside but we truly never know what’s going on in the inside,” she said.

“He missed out on lots – turning 21, meeting his nieces and nephews and having his own family.

“Who knows where his career would have gone?”

Dr Lishman said there were signs parents can look out for in their children.

They include changes to normal routine, personality changes, severe mood swings, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or having no purpose, increased use of alcohol or drugs, talking about suicide, a preoccupation with death, withdrawal, being more aggressive or agitated than usual and self-injury.

Ms Westbrook said it was quite normal for teenagers to want to stay in their rooms.

“It’s quite easy to write it off as normal behaviour,” she said.

“As a parent it’s vital to maintain communication with your teens.”

Dr Lishman said the suicide death of a classmate could influence other teenagers to feel the same, which could lead to “suicide clusters”.

“The suicide of another peer is an extremely traumatic experience to go through and very hard for adults, let alone teenagers to process – this could influence another teen to feel suicidal – as this is difficult to cope with,” she said.

She said in her experience most people who tried to commit suicide, but did not succeed, were regretful that they had attempted.

Kids Helpline is a private and confidential phone counselling service specifically for young people aged between five and 25-years-old. Call 1800 551 800.

Lifeline Australia provide crisis support and suicide prevention. Call 13 11 14.