fbpx

Lived Experiences

Sarah’s Story

Sarah’s Story

On May 21, 2007 two major events happened in my life. I had started a new job at the local paper in Esperance and my sister rang to tell me our brother had died four days earlier. It took that long to find him on his remote farm. The joy of starting my career had lasted just an hour before the crushing torment of being told my beautiful brother had taken his own life. It took three days after that to be able to eat again because my throat had closed from crying. In the months that followed, my friends became distant because of the brutal display of grief was too much to bear. I drank to sleep and I spent all my days alone. Fourteen years ago, suicide was not talked about the way it is now and it’s still largely a secret subject. People didn’t know what to say or how to be around me, I was desperately alone and 800km away from my family. For the next two years I woke up every day wishing that I hadn’t, finally understanding what it felt like to not want to live anymore. But I had to pull myself together, I had to start my new job and it was exhausting. The help I received to deal with my grief only came in the form of medications and six counselling sessions both administered through my local GP. Once the session ran out, all I had was alcohol and anti-depressants. There was no grief counselling groups – at least not that I knew of, there were no support groups to assist in my rapidly declining mental health, at least none that were centred about mental health recovery that were free or affordable. It took a lot of energy to even leave the house. It was the local theatre group I had joined that became the one thing that gave me joy, so I kept going and it was that two special friends who saved me. I didn’t last very long, I sold my car, put my stuff in storage and booked a ticket to the Middle East via Africa, I figured if I was going to have to get through this, I might as well immerse myself in a place where there were no reminders and I could avoid the uncomfortable stares of friends who did know what to say. When I returned, I threw myself into my work, moved back to Perth and was soon working in WA’s daily newspaper, The West Australian, where I started writing about the need for greater investment in suicide prevention and the fallout families endured after losing a loved one. These stories caught the attention of the Mental Health Minister and I worked as her media adviser. My breaking point came when I heard about a mother who left her baby behind in the public hospital room and took her own life. I left that job soon after and didn’t think I would work in mental health again. It felt like the work was not making a difference and that it was only triggering and re-traumatising me. So, when I got a call from a friend saying there was a job campaigning for greater investment into mental health, I had to seriously consider it. Was I ready? I had to be, I had a new reason now. I had my own child. No one really tells you how terrifying having children is and the surprising and daily mission to make sure they feel safe and loved. It can be lonely and isolating but it doesn’t have to be. We can be a village and our children can look around and know that they matter, because they would get told every day, at school, in the community, on the bus or on the back of a toilet door. But our world doesn’t do that right now and people are being told they don’t matter and they don’t feel heard. I met with the CEO and advocacy manager to find out about the gig. From the very first meeting, we connected. The two women from the WA Association for Mental Health showed a deliberate level of drive and they had a real plan about how we could fight to fix WA’s broken mental health system. They were going to gather people who needed community support in their darkest hour, just like I needed and they were going to prevent mental health challenges becoming so bad that people had to go to hospital or worse, take their own lives, just like my brother. I was in. Over the past 12 months, we have told the stories of hundreds of people in the same boat, terrible stories of being driven to hospital because there was no support in their community. We have come together because all needed hope and we were finding it in numbers. We have collectively called ourselves Prevent Support Heal and we have galvanised our strength and our voices to call on the Government to listen to people with lived experience because we are the experts in what we need. We deserve a Government that listens to its people. They haven’t heard us yet, so we will keep fighting. And we will not give up.