‘The system collapsed’: Family’s COVID suicide pain
The heartbroken family of a talented but "tormented" young woman believe she was getting her life together until coronavirus struck and the system built to protect her collapsed with devastating consequences.
Ashfield resident Grace Spencer took her own life in June after a 10-year battle with depression.
Lynne Spencer says her 25-year-old daughter was an intelligent, kind but "tormented" soul who was working as a waitress and visual marketer and living the life she always wanted when the pandemic hit.
"When the lockdown happened, her group counselling sessions ended … the system collapsed because nobody knew what to do. Then 12 days before she committed suicide she had an appointment with her psychologist and they felt she was getting better," Lynne said.
"Things started to get back to normal, her work started again, she was making friends. Things were on the up, restrictions were easing.
"She had cleaned her flat and put all her things in order, hung pictures on the wall. It looked perfect but the pressure of going back to life was difficult for her."
Grace had been "in a bad way" and tormented by suicidal thoughts for months but her mum wasn't told until after her death because of confidentiality.
Under psychologists' professional obligations, all material disclosed in sessions is private unless the client's safety is in jeopardy or the counsellor believes serious harm may occur.
"I wish someone had been able to say something," Lynne said.
"I understand at that point she was an adult but when someone is really at risk, people should be told. They knew she didn't have a lot of support."
She believes the cancellation of her daughter's planned trip to America and lack of support during the pandemic played a big role in her taking her life.
"Grace was a victim of COVID as much as a person with breathing difficulties in ICU.
"She had saved both financially and her annual leave for a trip to New York … All the concrete things she was looking forward to in her future were gone."
This was not the first time support systems failed Grace. Lynne remembers her shock when her daughter was suspended from elite private all-girls school Wenona for four days in 2009 after she told the counsellor about her suicidal thoughts.
"They told us she would be excluded from school until we got a letter saying she was not going to commit suicide," Lynne said.
"It was one of the worst things they could do. In the end they allowed her back a few days later but that's because health authorities told me that letter did not exist."
Wenona's current principal Briony Scott, who was not in charge when Grace was there, said she has "never known a child to be suspended for mental health concerns" but the school has learnt more about youth mental health over the past decade.
The Spencers are speaking out as part of The Daily and Sunday Telegraph's We Can Talk campaign, calling for more school counsellors and for all teachers to be trained in mental health first aid.
The next-of-kin of those who have taken their life also need more support, she says, after she struggled to gain access to the pictures on her daughter's phone, which is being held by NSW Police until the Coroner hands down a report.
Lifeline 13 11 14
Originally published as 'The system collapsed': North Shore family's COVID suicide pain